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Endosulfan Deaths in Benin
June 13, 2000
Official sources in Benin state that at least 37 people died due to endosulfan poisoning during the 1999/2000 season in northern Borgou province. Another 36 were poisoned and became seriously ill. These cases of death and poisoning can be directly linked to the fact that decisions about pesticide use in cotton production in the region are made without adequate consideration of the wider context in which pesticides are managed and used.
Endosulfan, a highly toxic pesticide, is particularly dangerous when used without proper equipment and protective clothing. A number of countries, including Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belize and Singapore, have banned the chemical; Colombia and Indonesia are in the process of banning it. Many other countries severely restrict the use of this chemical.
During the 1999/2000 season, endosulfan was introduced in cotton production throughout Francophone West Africa as part of a regional program to combat the American bollworm's resistance to pyrethroids. American bollworm is the main cotton bollworm pest in West Africa, as is the case in many cotton-growing countries worldwide. The pest's resistance to pyrethroids was reported in numerous countries during the 1980s. In West Africa, farmers first reported the pest's decreasing sensitivity to pyrethroids during the 1996/97 season.
In 1998, national cotton research institutes in West Africa, the French cotton company CFDT, CIRAD (Centre de coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement) and the Insecticide Resistance Action Committee (IRAC)* of the Global Crop Protection Federation started a project to deal with the growing resistance to pyrethroids. A report produced by the project called for countries in the region to use endosulfan during the first two sprayings over a period of 40 days, corresponding to one generation of American bollworm.
In Benin, the cotton research institute supported adoption of this program, and in early 1999, endosulfan (Callisulfan 350 EC TBV made by the French company Calliope) was distributed to cotton farmers throughout the country. The first reports of cotton pesticide poisonings were published in August and September 1999. The extension service in Borgou claims that 37 people died in that province between May and September due to Callisulfan use, while another 36 suffered serious health effects. Deaths and poisonings were reported from 16 villages in seven out of 12 districts.
Borgou represents approximately 50% of the total cotton growing area of Benin. If poisonings occurred at the same rate throughout all cotton growing areas, at least 70 people may have died as a result of endosulfan use.
In one village in Borgou province, three brothers between the ages of 12 and 14 were weeding in their father's field planted with cotton and corn that had been sprayed with endosulfan the previous day. When they finished their work, they ate some of the corn. Within 15 minutes, the boys began vomiting. In spite of being hospitalized, one of the children died.
It is common practice for farmers in Benin to grow other food crops around cotton fields, to leave voluntarily emerging food crop seedlings in cotton fields, to spray food stocks and to re-use pesticide containers. Farmers cannot afford and do not have access to proper protective clothing for pesticide application, and tend to spray barefoot or in sandals and without use of safety goggles, gloves, long sleeves or respirators. Men, women and children, as well as sheep, goats and chickens, can be in the field during spraying. In addition, many farming families live on diets low in protein which often results in a higher susceptibility to pesticide poisoning.
Cotton insecticides are virtually the only pesticides available in the rural area of northern Benin and the only ones delivered on a credit loan basis. This may account for some of the hazardous uses of the insecticides, such as on food crops or in storage. In addition, farmers are not adequately informed about the hazards associated with the products they use.
Such inappropriate uses of cotton pesticides in West Africa are well known to cotton research institutes and should have been taken into account when selecting insecticides for large-scale application. The project should re-examine the problem and invite other stakeholders to participate in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of strategies to manage cotton pests, pesticides and pesticide resistance.
* IRAC was formed by the world's agrochemical companies in 1984 to assess the growing threat of pest resistance around the globe.
Source: Pesticides News 74, March 2000.
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