Health and consumer rights advocates have asked government through its ministries, departments and agencies to and urgently audit the chemical and agrochemical manufacturers and suppliers in Uganda and ban hazardous agrochemicals, monitor the sale, use and regulate the promotion of agro-chemicals in the country.
"There is an increasing use and promotion of agro-chemicals including pesticides, herbicides, commodity chemicals and fertilizers, among others in Uganda and yet some of these agro-chemicals have been banned and/or classified as highly hazardous and probably carcinogenic. Currently, large quantities of banned chemical pesticides are still in use illegally in Uganda yet they have a big effect on the life of Ugandans," SEATINI Executive Director, Jane Nalunga said.
She was together with other health and consumer rights advocates on Sunday addressing journalists about the danger Ugandans are in over the increased use of hazardous agro-chemicals.
The Civil Society Organisations explained that the pressure to increase agricultural output for increased trade and food security has overshadowed everything else including regard for human health and in return has seen a massive importation of hazardous agro-chemicals and subsequent use by farmers.
"We specifically note that based on the European Commission regulations more than half (59%) of the 41 Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) identified under current official registration for use in Uganda are currently not approved for use across the European Union. Due to the continued use of hazardous agrochemicals, the resulting impacts on human life and the planet are likely to be contrary to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and threaten our food security,"Nalunga noted.
"While agro-chemicals such as pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides are often promoted as inputs that increase agricultural productivity by limiting a range of pre-harvest losses, their use is associated with a long-term and severe risks to human health, labor productivity and the environment."
She explained that due to unregulated marketing, farmers are lured into buying various agro-chemicals some of which are counterfeit and substandard and consequently, some farmers have incurred losses as a result of using counterfeit agro-chemicals.
"Uganda's rapid market liberalization has created a situation of widespread promotion of agro-chemicals and pervasive availability of cheap, poor-quality products, including counterfeits. Additionally, farmers often do not have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and are often unable to read labels that are usually the only source of safety instructions. Majority of agro-chemical users in Uganda lack minimal training, thus fall short in having basic knowledge and skills to use these products."
The SEATINI Uganda Executive Director noted that due to the continued use of the hazardous agro-chemicals, Ugandan agricultural products have continued to lose lucrative markets abroad, especially in Europe.
"For example, Uganda is estimated to lose approximately $200m in exports of agricultural products to markets in the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom due to among others, using agrochemicals that have been banned worldwide including by the EU. As such, Ugandan producers often find it difficult to meet sanitary and phytosanitary standards required exporting goods to Europe and the United Kingdom."
"The EU has occasionally slapped bans on Uganda's Agricultural exports due to prevalence of harmful pesticide residues. Harmful agrochemicals negatively impact on Uganda's trade competitiveness, food security."
The CSOs explained that these agro-chemicals are associated increases in human illness, including increased health expenditures related to illness and time lost from work due to sickness.
They mentioned diseases including obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer's, dementia, Parkinson's, asthma, chronic bronchitis, autism, erectile dysfunction, and psychological disorders as a result of chronic exposure to the banned pesticides.
According to David Kureeba, the Program Officer in charge of forests and biodiversity at National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) said that it is worrying that some of the agro-chemicals are used on plants in wetlands like rice which end up in rivers and lakes.
"The swamps are catchment areas for our lakes, especially Lake Victoria but use of these hazardous chemicals ensures they are transported up to the lake whose waters were consume every day. The chemicals also end up killing other creatures in the water including fish,"Kureeba said.
African Institute for Culture and Ecology (AFRICE) Executive Director, Denis Tabaro couldn't agree more.
"Pesticides have grossly destroyed biodiversity, an important component for crop growth. Crop farming is not an isolated practice but a play of different systems. The loss of plant or crop pollinators like bees, beetles, butterflies and birds due to chemicals, has a direct effect on crop -cross pollination and consequently, crop fertilization failure and yielding," Tabaro said.
The CSOs specifically mentioned glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides which they said are commonly sold and used on the Ugandan market.
They however said that whereas the Ministry of Agriculture administers the law through the Agricultural Chemical Control Board to license chemicals, it's difficult to follow up with how chemicals are used by the farmers due to the weak agricultural extension system and enforcement infrastructure.
Centre for Food and Adequate Living Rights(CEFROHT) Executive Director explained that there are not enough laws in place to enforce the ban on the use of the hazardous agro-chemicals.
"Government is supposed to ensure citizens enjoy the right to a health life, and dignity. Every Ugandan is in great danger with these agro-chemicals,"Kabanda said.
Food Rights Alliance Executive Director , Agnes Kirabo said the problem that the country is facing is big one that requires collective effort.
The CSOs however asked government through the relevant ministries, departments and agencies to invest in research and production of organic and safe fertilizers on a commercial scale
"There is need to ssue an immediate ban on use of glyphosate, and Glyphosate Based Herbicides in Uganda and all internationally banned agro-chemicals. This should be guided by a clear roadmap and action plan developed in consultation with key stakeholders including CSOs, "SEATINI Executive Director, Jane Nalunga said.
She noted that there is need to stop all imports of of agrochemicals banned in the European Union and other countries but also shift from conventional agriculture to agroecology farming, regulate the quality and importation of agricultural chemicals into the country and their distribution
The CSOs also asked government to implement both the National Organic Food Policy and section 18 of the Agriculture Chemicals (Control) Act 2007 which provides for regulation of the use, transport, storage advertisement and disposal of pesticides.