Extension pesticide expert visits, advises farmers in Senegal
By Ryan McGeeney
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture
- Extension pesticide expert participates in international Farmer-to-Farmer Program
- Pesticides not always well-regulated in Senegal, much of Africa
- Spradley says training and education is key to improving safety
LITTLE ROCK — When Ples Spradley, extension pesticide assessment specialist for the University of Arkansas, found himself surrounded by about 10 locals after being peripherally involved in a shouting match in Dakar, Senegal, his first thought was, “Well, this might not be good.”
But it quickly became evident that the mass of people who had streamed out of a nearby restaurant were there to make sure nothing happened. A fellow American who had shared a short cab ride with Spradley had gotten into a quickly-escalating disagreement with their driver, whom Spradley described as standing about 6 feet, 8 inches tall, over the agreed-upon price of the ride.
“In America, all those folks would’ve been there to watch a fight,” Spradley said, laughing. “In Senegal, they were there to break up the fight before it happened. They told us, ‘This cab driver obviously isn’t from here. We don’t treat foreigners this way.’”
The disagreement was over 300 West African francs, or about half a U.S. dollar.
Aside from that one moment, Spradley said, the entire trip was remarkably pleasant.
“They were just very friendly, hospitable people, everywhere I went,” he said.
Spradley spent most of September in the West African country as a volunteer for Winrock International’s Farmer-to-Farmer Program, which began in 1991 and is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Spradley took on the task of assessing the current state of pesticide safety practices being used in Senegal, and making recommendations based on those findings.
Spradley said he spent about a week in each of four regions of the country, which has about 14 million citizens, about 70 percent of whom are involved in agriculture. In each region, he visited farmers, pesticide dealers and local government officials to get an idea of the area’s current use of pesticides, the availability and use of personal protective equipment and other factors.
Spradley said that the sale, possession and use of pesticides in the country is not well-regulated, and that many Senegalese are unknowingly exposed to very toxic chemicals, or are unclear on what precautions should be taken when handling them.
“We would tour pesticide dealers in an area, which was quite an eye-opener,” he said. “Some dealers have operations that would rival anything in the United States, while others will repackage and sell anything in a plastic bag, maybe with the name written on the outside, but with no directions for use or safety precautions.”
Spradley said that pesticide dealers often repackaged and resold small quantities of pesticides because many local growers couldn’t afford to buy the quantities of pesticides typically available for retail purchase.
“The street markets were incredible,” he said. “You see folks selling toxic chemicals that are banned in both the United States and Senegal.”
Talking with Senegalese growers in regions of the country that largely grow cotton, rice and fruits and vegetables, Spradley said he encountered problems related to the cost, importance and proper use of protective equipment.
“There’s a lack of protective gear because of the cost, but they’re kind of in the mind frame that we in the United States were 15-20 years ago, to wear everything,” Spradley said. “They think every time you make an application of any kind, you should be wearing everything: coveralls, mask, goggles, boots and gloves. And that’s often more than necessary.
“The real problem with that is that if they can’t afford all of the protective gear, they don’t buy anything,” he said. “I think we can do them a lot of good, just by advising ‘gloves, a long-sleeve shirt, proper footwear, and clean up thoroughly.’”
Spradley, who is now writing an extensive report on his findings, said the number-one thing that would benefit Senegalese growers at this time is improved training.
“Proper training should be required for purchasing and using certain pesticides,” he said. “They need better trainers, they need more of them, and they need a way to get to the farmers and do the training.
“Right now, it’s almost like an honor system,” he said. “Qualified trainers train a few farmers who are expected to go back to the village and do the training, and that just doesn’t work well.”
Spradley said that it was difficult to ask Senegalese to avoid the use of riskier pesticides because many of them depended on sustenance farming just to survive.
“When people are growing stuff to eat, and they’re dependent on it, there’s only so much you can do,” he said. “You have to control pests, or you’re not going to eat.”
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
# # #
Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service