Why farmers in Acholi are using the wrong chemicals on tomatoes 

(Last Updated On: 16 August 2023)

Amuru I Before he starts harvest, Michael Okot, a resident of Lajalula village, Lajalula parish, Lakang sub-county in Amuru district begins to spray his 20 by 40 tomato garden twice.

During a visit to his garden on Saturday, it is unlikely that he knows the implication of using 6 spoonfuls of a powdered Mancozeb fungicide instead of three as labelled on the chemical’s sachet.

“The fungal pathogens are stubborn, if you put more, you are sure to get rid of them completely,” he responds with a grin while he applies an overdose of the chemical.

Just like he does, his distant neighbour, Caesar Odong whose half-acre cabbage garden is fruiting, is worried. The weather has been strange recently and to avoid risks of infection in his garden, he applies an overdose of a combination of Profenofos and Cypermethrin.

Profenofos is a restricted pesticide used solely on cotton, to control the tobacco budworm, cotton bollworm, armyworm, cotton aphid, whiteflies, spider mites, plant bugs, and flea hoppers.

He wants to rid the garden of sooty mold, Aphids, and Armyworms, among other pests and diseases that would infest the eggplants.

“It has been extremely wet in May and early June, crucial weather that aids pests and both viral and fungal infections on vegetables, there was heavy rain and hail. It was too much, too late,” Odong says.

Rain disseminates the pathogen’s spores and often leads to severe losses, especially if fruits are wounded. These fungi can survive in infected seeds and persist in leaf or stem lesions in plant debris for long periods.

Horticultural production in Uganda is one of the fastest-growing agricultural sub-sectors with a growth rate of 20 per cent per year, and tomato has turned into some of the most important vegetable crops.

According to Paul Mwambu, Commissioner, Department of Crop Inspection and Certification at the Ministry of Agriculture, today such pesticides and fungicides are extensively used on horticultural crops to combat different fungal, viral and bacterial infections, and farmers misuse them.

“Adherence to label instructions is very poor among farmers, they don’t care to read such instructions but they learn spraying and mixing procedures of these chemicals by imitating their neighbours,” Mwambu tells TND News.

Farmers betray and exceed the recommended mixing concentration of these chemicals and overdose them by applying it as close as 1 to 2 days to harvest time and sometimes even on harvest day because they believe that it works as a preservative to extend the tomato shelf life, he adds.

“If you walk into any market randomly, you will find tomatoes, eggplants, green peppers etc., smelling fresh with these chemicals. The problem is that the consumers also do not wash well these foods before eating yet the residues of such chemicals on the food exceed European Food Safety Authority maximum residue limits and they get poisoned without knowing.”

Experts speak out

Desmond Anywar, an environmental scientist from Northern Uganda says chemicals kill even organisms and pests which might have not been affecting the crops.

“Not all the organisms in your garden are harmful, some are good; there are others which help in the process of pollination, so if we apply chemicals, it affects and kills them,” Anywar says.

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According to Anywar, traditionally, farmers used nim trees’ leaves to control pests by grinding the leaves and adding some water before spraying.

“Our fathers traditionally use ash to apply on tomatoes in the backyard and it does control pests. They sometimes use pili pili (green pepper). These have no impacts on the environment because they work strictly on certain pests and disappear,” Anywar added.

Meanwhile, with civilization, farmers are running for inorganic chemicals which give them quick and fast results. Anywar emphasized that there is a need for farmers to practice organic pest control to save the environment and its ecosystem.

In August 2022, Makerere University scientists unveiled software to protect consumers from toxic chemicals in food that can cause cancer, brain disease and other complications.

Using the software dubbed Kebera Organics; a consumer can only scan the food commodity and get either of the three signals: red, yellow or green. Red means it is dangerous, yellow means the contamination is at a moderate level and green means it is safe.

Besides protecting public health, the scientists believe that technology is essential in increasing Uganda’s share of the lucrative organic market to enrich farmers and the country.

Uganda’s fertile agricultural land has the potential to feed 200 million people, but the farmers struggle to meet sanitary and phytosanitary standards required for exporting goods to Europe and the United States due to agro-chemical misuse, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Globally, there are more than 1000 pesticides used to safeguard food from being damaged or destroyed by pests, each pesticide has different properties and toxicological effects.

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