The health of farmworkers who work tirelessly to provide food security in South Africa has been highlighted as a concern at the National Farmworker Platform in Cape Town by Women on Farms. Responsible pesticide usage and the well-being of workers were among the issues participants appealed for government help to address.
Former labourer and activist from De Doorns in the Western Cape Dina Ndleleni (61) said her working career was cut short due to exposure to pesticides at her workplace.
She grew up and has worked on farms since she was seven years old.
“Last year, while working, pesticides were sprayed. I started coughing and feeling pain in my chest, collapsed and was rushed to the doctor. I was diagnosed with asthma [and had to] stay at home until I reached 60 [to be able to receive an] old-age pension,” she said.
After spending two weeks in the hospital, her employer allegedly informed her that she could not work anymore.
A call for responsible practices
Meanwhile, Moipone Jwayi from the Rural Women’s Assembly in the Free State expressed her frustration, labelling South Africa a failed state due to a perceived lack of pesticide usage monitoring and evaluation.
She criticised the government for shifting blame to unions and failing to act on workers’ concerns, especially regarding the harmful effects of pesticides, particularly on women.
In response to the recent debates surrounding pesticide use in South Africa, Elriza Theron, advocacy and communications manager at CropLife SA, underscored the complexity of safe and sustainable food production.
“When serious matters like these arise, it can be tempting to find one single scapegoat to pin the blame on, because we all want solutions to issues that clearly need attention. But safe and sustainable food production is so much more complex than just a polarised debate of banning pesticides or not,” she said.
Theron highlighted the importance of avoiding oversimplified solutions, especially when comparing the country’s agricultural realities, crops, pests, and climatic profiles to those of Europe.
Theron stressed that adherence to the law is paramount, with products needing to be used precisely according to label instructions. She highlighted the country’s robust regulatory framework, supported by acts such as the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which mandates protective clothing and proper training for workers handling pesticides.
“Any person who does not comply with this, transgresses this act. In other words, the responsibility lies with the entire value chain, from manufacturer to farmworker.”
The article was first published on Food For Mzansi. Read the full article here.
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