Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
'Protecting Health and Environment through Pesticide Management', this year's theme for Pesticides Awareness Week, effectively echoes the mandate of the Pesticides Control Authority (PCA), which will observe the annual event from Sunday, September 23 to Saturday, September 29.
The primary objective of the week is to remind pesticide sellers and users, including farmers and householders, that, in general, pesticides are poisons and should be handled, stored and used with extreme care. The same attention to detail must be observed in disposing of empty containers, in keeping with instructions usually written on the label.
For Michael Ramsay, registrar of the PCA, there can be no letting up in getting this message across, especially in light of the continued accidental poisoning of children - through the careless/negligent actions of adults. In most cases, this is due mainly to the failure of adults to read and heed simple instructions in respect of storage and disposal.
A double-edged sword
Widely used in agriculture, pesticides and other chemicals are integral to successful farming, but are potentially harmful to human health, animals and the environment. So it is imperative that persons using them read the application instructions carefully and use appropriate protective clothing at all times. In addition, pesticides should only be used as a last resort. So each year, the agency saturates the airwaves with advertisements and publishes newspaper supplements to keep the safety message in the public's mind.
In fact, Ramsay is warning farmers not to cut corners in order to save on costs. He told AgroGleaner: "I know the chemicals are expensive but they should not try to water them down and use less. In addition, they should try to use the prescribed pesticides for specific crops, to treat specific pests."
He noted that improper usage could lead to problems such as the pests becoming resistant to the chemical over time. Overuse, for example, could lead to decimation of insects which are natural enemies of the pests, and it is these which are most effective in controlling the pest population.
However, while farmers are often in the spotlight, Ramsay's message is for the entire Jamaican population. He insists: "Pesticide safety is vital to the Jamaican people and environment and all must play their part."
With the PCA observing its 20th anniversary this year, it will be ramping up activities, starting with a service at the Saxthorpe Methodist Church on Sunday; then moving to the Sydney Pagon High School at Elim, St Elizabeth, for the National Agricultural Schools Quiz on Tuesday; then heading to Guy's Hill, St Catherine, the next day for a community meeting on pesticide safety; and hosting an outside broadcast at the St William Grant Park in downtown Kingston on Thursday.
Each year in September, the PCA joins the rest of the Caribbean through the Coordinating Group of Pesticide Control Boards of the Caribbean in observing Pesticides Awareness Week. At the local level, it collaborates with the ministries of Health; Agriculture and Fisheries; and Industry, Investment and Commerce, as well as the Jamaica Agricultural Chemicals Association.
The PCA is the statutory body mandated through the Pesticides Act of 1975 to carry out the regulation and control of pesticides in Jamaica. While the Ministry of Health has portfolio responsibility for the association, it reports to a board comprising experts from the field of plant protection, food storage, pesticide chemistry, public health, and food chemistry.