Pesticides in farms leave women susceptible to health challenges
A new report on the status of chemicals used in the country’s flower farms paints a grim picture as demand for the produce mainly in the European Union continues to rise.
The report dubbed ‘The Ugly Picture of Pesticides Poisoning in Kenyan Flower Farms’ was produced after a two year research in 21 flower farms.
The research by a non-government organisation Labour and Environment Watch alleges that one percent of deaths in the flower farms are caused by the chemicals.
The report further notes that over 10,000 workers, mainly women fall sick each year due to unsafe, unhealthy and unsustainable work and workplaces in the flower industry.
The study established that most of the affected workers were suffering from serious chronic effects of occupational pesticides poisoning.
Some of the disorders, according to the report, include persistent miscarriages, reduced sperm count, lack of sexual libido, irregular and long menstrual periods and birth defects.
Other problems include n problems such as rashes, burning and irritation of the skin, excessive sweating, blurred vision as well as eyes itching and watering.
The report quotes problems such as difficulty in breathing, chest pain and tightness, rasping breath and among other complications associated with the toxic chemicals.
The study established that flower industry in Kenya was a heavy pesticide user with workers in the sector exposed to over 300 different types of chemical sprays.
According to Peter Otieno Ombude, Chief Executive Officer at Labour and Environment Watch, workers in cut-flower farms in Kenya continue to be adversely affected by highly hazardous pesticide poisoning.
While releasing the report in Naivasha, Nakuru County, Otieno noted that as demand for flowers continues to rise, workers were continually working beyond safety limits in order to maximise output.
“The chemicals are robbing the workers of good health and leaving them vulnerable to a lifetime of debilitating ill health before the train of death sends them to early graves,” noted Ombude.
He explained that the research was carried out between August 2013 to August 2017 in 21 flower farms and 630 workers were interviewed.
Out of the 630 workers surveyed 403 were female workers while 227 were male workers.
Ombude noted that in the study, they established that workers were at times forced to work in green houses as spraying continued.
“Sometimes the workers are forced back inside the greenhouses 30 minutes after the spraying has been carried before the expiry of re-entry period has elapsed,” Ombude explained.
The study established that this problem could be larger since a large number of pesticides poisoning cases were covered up by the management of the farms.
“Most of the affected workers are treated in the farms medical clinics and can only be transferred to hospitals that have contract for service with the flower farms,” said Ombude.
“This has created a permissive environment for flower farms to cover up most cases of pesticide poisoning in their premises,” reads the report in part.
The study established that female workers were more vulnerable than men with cases of pregnant women being exposed to pesticides during pregnancy.
“Pre-natal exposure to pesticides is believed to be the cause of adverse effect to brain development and is associated with neurological impairment,” says the report.
This is opposite of the requirements by the Women@Work Campaign which calls for decent working conditions for female workers.
Otieno noted that over 70 percent of the workers surveyed reported that they were not provided with appropriate protective equipment or that they were poorly maintained.
“The land used for growing flowers is estimated to take between 30-40 years to return to its normal status due to the inorganic chemicals released in the soil,” he reiterated.
Some of the commendations made by the research include action to prevent pesticides poisoning and to hold those farms and their suppliers accountable and compensate affected worker.
Other recommendations include phasing out highly hazardous pesticides used in the sector and strengthen safe use of pesticides education programmes.
“Demand and make it a requirement for each flower farm to make to the public include online all pesticides it uses for easy review,” reads one of the recommendations.
In the past, Jane Ngige, Chief Executive Officer Kenya Flower Council has defended members noting that they keenly adhere to the set standards in farming flowers.
Ngige noted that the international market and Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBs) had introduced various standards which every flower farm was supposed to meet.
“The market is very sensitive on the issue of pesticides and working conditions for workers and thus the move to introduce various standards,” she said.