Updated on April 15, 2019
Pests and diseases are a constant threat for farmers, yet chemical pesticides can risk the health of the workers who apply them, as well as damaging the environment. Fabián Calvo Romero, Global Officer Resources, explains that UTZ certified farmers are trained to use alternatives, so that pesticides are used as a last resort.
Protecting crops, people, and the planet
“Farmers all over the world have to cope with pests and diseases. Imagine working so hard on growing your crops, only to have them wiped out by insects or a fungal disease. For farmers who already struggle to achieve a sustainable livelihood, this can be really devastating, especially as climate change increases the risks of pest outbreaks” explains Fabián.
This is why most farmers use pesticides. However, the use of pesticides is risky. “Pesticides are very dangerous for people who are exposed to them if not handled appropriately. They can also have serious consequences for the environment, especially for biodiversity and water resources. Worldwide we are seeing that insect pollinators like bees are badly affected by pesticides, and ground waters are being contaminated.”
So what’s the solution? “In the long run, sustainable productivity depends on a healthy population and a healthy planet. We have to find a balance where we make sure that crops, people, and the planet are all protected.”
Alternatives to pesticides
For UTZ certified farmers, the first line of defense is preventing pests and diseases. “A healthy crop is far less likely to be attacked,” says Fabián. “Therefore, farmers are trained in good agricultural practices that help to make the crop stronger, such as using resistant and locally adapted plants, and managing the soil to increase fertility and reduce erosion.
Even with these preventive measures, pests and diseases can still be a problem. “The second step taken by UTZ farmers is using non-chemical control methods. For example, some pests thrive in bright sunlight, so introducing more shade can help to tackle them. Other alternatives are directly removing or killing the pests, or introducing other insects that are natural predators for the pests.”
Fabián explains that chemical methods can only be used as the last resort, in case the non-chemical methods have not been effective enough.
When farmers do use pesticides, there are strict regulations. The pesticides that are used must be registered for use on a particular crop, and pesticides harmful to people or the planet are banned altogether. Those that are allowed must be used very carefully.
“The UTZ program has many different rules related to the safe handling and use of pesticides, and farmers and workers are carefully trained to follow them,” says Fabián. “For example, pesticides must be stored safely, and the empty containers must be disposed of safely to minimize exposure to humans and the environment. People working with the pesticides must always wear adequate protective equipment. Pregnant women cannot work with pesticides. Children cannot be in contact or close to the products. Additionally, the correct dosage must be applied, and it must be done at the right stage, to avoid residues on the harvested product.”
These good practices protect the health of the farmers and workers, and also consumers, as they ensure residue levels of pesticides in the final product are reduced.
Just as importantly, the UTZ requirements also ensure that the environment is protected. For example, there are strict rules that protect biodiversity and prevent the contamination of soil and water resources. Here you can think of the implementation of buffer zones next to water streams.
The difference between UTZ Program and Organic
This approach makes the UTZ program different from the Organic sustainability standard, which is focused on completely eliminating synthetic pesticides. Our organization aims to have a holistic approach in which sustainability not only depends on environmental criteria, but also includes aspects such as working conditions, gender inclusiveness, and tackling child labor. More and more farmers are combining the UTZ program and Organic certifications; in fact, almost 30% of UTZ certified tea farmers say they are also Organic certified. This can bring big benefits, as it can increase market demand for their crops.
Pesticide handling in practice
Leo Kouassi Garçon works at the SCACEP cocoa cooperative in Côte d’Ivoire as a pesticide applicator and warehouse responsible. In the video below Leo explains how they handle equipment and products and talks about the training they received (4″43).
(Please note: in case you don’t see the English subtitles, you can switch these on by clicking the button in the bottom right corner of the video.)
Want to find out more?
Read how we work together with other organizations to eliminate harmful pesticides and download our position paper on pesticides. You can also take a look at our e-course on Introduction to Integrated Pest Management.