With the help of a new training guide developed by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), extension workers are engaging with rural communities to reduce children’s exposure to toxic pesticides used in farming.
Nearly 100 million boys and girls between 5 and 17 years old are engaged in child labour in agriculture, according to ILO statistics. Many are directly exposed to toxic chemicals while working on the farm. But children are also exposed when they help with family chores or play, and through the food they eat and the water they drink.
Children are far more sensitive to pesticides than adults. Exposure can result in acute poisoning and sickness immediately after contact. But often, it also has longer-term, chronic impacts on their health and development.
Limiting pesticide use and promotion of non-toxic alternatives are important for reducing exposure, but education is equally crucial.
FAO and ILO’s new visual guide, Protect children from pesticides, provides an easy accessible training tool. It helps agricultural extension workers, rural educators, labour inspectors, and producer organisations in teaching farmers and their families how to identify and minimise risks at home and on the farm. They also learn how to recognise and respond to signs of toxic exposure.
The user-friendly guide has three main modules; how children are exposed to pesticides, what the health risks are and why children are particularly vulnerable, and what can be done to reduce those risks.
"The tool was initially developed in Mali, where it is now widely used by extension workers, farmer field schools, labour inspectors, and producer organisations", said Rob Vos, Director of FAO’s Social Protection Division. "Its use is also expanding in Niger and other African countries. We are seeing growing interest from other regions. The guide is not only raising awareness that something must be done, but also showing what needs to be done."
The effort to adapt the visual guide and promote its wider use is being supported by the Rotterdam Convention, a multilateral treaty to promote shared responsibility in relation to imports of hazardous chemicals. FAO and the United Nations Environment Programme jointly serve as the Secretariat for the convention.
"The colourful illustrations are built on local knowledge and refer to very concrete and real situations, such that they also appeal to children, raising their own awareness of the risks posed by pesticides," says, Christine Fuell, FAO’s Coordinator for the Rotterdam Convention.