‘Life Initiative’ aims to wipe out harmful chemicals in agriculture, public health

As chemical use causes health and food safety concerns 

By Sanna Camara

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A new project has envisaged the wiping out of harmful chemicals used in agriculture and public health  such as DDTs and POPS, through the cultivation and use of Artemisia – a plant species that serves same purpose as the chemicals but with no side effects or harm to the environment and humans.

DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) was developed as the first of the modern synthetic insecticides in the 1940s. It was initially used with great effect to combat malaria, typhus, and the other insect-borne human diseases, and for insect control in crop and livestock production, institutions, homes, and gardens.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are mainly used as pesticides that have been observed to persist in the environment. According to the UN Environmental Programme, POP exposure can cause death and illnesses including disruption of the endocrinereproductive, and immune systems; neurobehavioral disorders; and cancers possibly including breast cancer.

Cultivating a new plant specie instead of using the chemicals

Mr. Momodou Canteh, a Gambian planthologist specializing in integrated pesticide management, cultivating this plant will ensure the phasing out of Persistent organic Pollutant (POPS) in agriculture and DDTs in public health.

The species Artemisia comprises a group of plants known as wormwoods that have been utilized for a number of medical purposes, including malaria for centuries. “The key ingredient in the leading treatment for Malaria in Africa- artemisinin – comes not from high tech research, but is an extract of an ancient medicinal plant, Artemisia  annua,commonly known as Artemisia or sweet wormwood, Canteh indicated.

Available in chemical fertilizers and insecticides

POPS are usually available in chemical fertilizers and insecticides used in agriculture and horticulture, while DDTs are used in indoor residual hose spraying and mosquito net dipping insecticides.

Inappropriate use of these chemicals can have diverse impact on biodiversity, Mr. Canteh told a consultative meeting organized by life Initiative and its community-based and civil society partners in the Gambia recently.

“Use of such pesticides, which are popular vegetable production systems despite its impact on livelihood of women in particular, is putting us all in danger. Its residue is carried in food consumed by all of us as vegetable consumers,” he said.

He added that the informal marketing of pesticides through local weekly markets (‘Lumos’), which are mostly improperly labeled, or without technical instructions on use, leads to misapplication.

Improper chemicals management causes serious side-effects

 “Pest population or weed resurgence is caused by the misapplication of chemicals, leading to secondary outbreaks of pests and weeds. After some time, the weeds grow resistant to the chemicals too. So this has shown that it is a very ineffective in its popular usage,” he said.

Mr. Canteh’s proposition was unraveled at a one-day meeting for Life Pilot Projects to brainstorm on issues affecting health and nutrition of the population.

 

Commitment to evidence-informed approach

Coordinator for Preparing for Life in The Gambia, Helmie Kassama-Kemper, explained that the Initiative is led by parent and patient organisations.

“It is a multi-disciplinary international partnership which brings together research and academia who are committed to evidence-informed approach to involving key stakeholder guidance with an emphasis on civil society, community, parent, and patient involvement to ensure it achieves its aims,” she said. 

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