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Senegal: Toxic vegetables for sale
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3 March 2008
KOUNOUNE, 3 March 2008 (IRIN) - In his two-hectare garden in Kounoune village, 40 km east of Dakar, farmer Babacar Wade, 38, grows lettuce, cabbage, parsley, aubergine, peppers, and okra—some of the most coveted vegetables for export from Senegal.
Wade is passionate about his trade. 'Market gardening is my life,' he told IRIN. But he is also concerned about the downside of the business the 'dangerous' levels of pesticides, fertilisers and other toxic substances such as waste-water, that he is obliged to use to improve the colour and growth of his crops.
'We [cultivators] are... careless about people's health. Even producers are not well-protected,' Wade told IRIN.
Amadou Diouf, an agricultural engineer, told IRIN the problem is rife across the country. 'Some gardeners respect none of the international standards, use waste-water or inappropriate pesticides at any dose and at any time. The risks are very serious for producers and consumers.'
The high toxicity levels that result can lead to 'acute poisoning which can cause headaches, vomiting, anxiety, loss of sight, while chronic poisoning can cause toxicity, infertility in women and impotence in men,' Diouf said.
Producers recognise the hazards heavy pesticide use can bring. But they also acknowledge they have little choice but to use them.
'To produce a vegetable [in Senegal] without touching a chemical fertiliser or urine is almost impossible, because the climate [here] fosters the development of pests like locusts, butterflies and termites. We are permanently under threat of attack,' Wade told IRIN.
A handful of producers are bucking the trend, shunning pesticides to grow organic fruits and vegetables.
In Kermel market in downtown Dakar, a saleswoman shouts: 'Vegetables for sale... grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides,' in a bid to attract clients.
And for some it works. 'I have always wanted [to buy] these vegetables. Although they are quite expensive, we must avoid poisons at all costs, to maintain our health,' said Viviane, a French expatriate.
In Niayes in northern Senegal, a non-governmental organisation ENDA is training 700 producers how to grow organic vegetables, stressing that it does not have to be complicated, said Abdoulaye, a horticulturalist.
By way of example, he explained to IRIN. 'Cucumbers can neutralise the insects that attack tomatoes and onions, if they are all grown near each other.'
But for most producers, the organic route is too costly.
'Producing organic vegetables costs us a lot,' said producer, Ndoya. 'It involves using natural inputs, such as compost and water. But people do not pay a good price for the results... we end up having to sell these products at the same price as those of lesser quality in the markets of Dakar.'
And in a country where over half of the population lives on less than US$2 a day according to the World Bank, most people cannot afford to pay the premium required.
Reaching international standards
Rather than turn to organics, Mamadou Ndiaye, who coordinates an association of 17 vegetable-growing unions across the country, said the producers should focus more on applying existing national standards of pesticide use, which are insufficiently applied.
For Anne Jean-Bart, spokesperson of the European Union (EU), producers can go further than this by meeting strict international standards on pesticide use, and the best way to do this is through market forces. The EU set up the Pesticides Initiatives Programme, in December 2007 to support producers in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, among them Senegal, to meet EU pesticide regulations.
'The growing concern of health quality in Europe has led to stronger demands for fruit and vegetables imported into the European Union. Answering these legal requirements has become a major challenge for fruit and vegetable producers in Senegal.'
So far fourteen Senegalese producing companies have signed up to this scheme, but according to Jean-Bart, if replicated on a wider scale, the possibilities could be immense.
'Senegal currently exports only 2 percent of its fruit and vegetable production abroad. Modernising this sector should ultimately enable the country to become a major exporter,' she said.
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