Following our conceptual model as presented in Fig. 1, this section discusses the interaction between lifestyles (4.1) and the system of provision (4.2) in the pesticide selection and use practices (4.3).
Lifestyle characteristics and their contribution to (un)safe pesticide practices
The lifestyles of farmers include general lifestyle elements (general socio-economic background characteristics) and practice-specific elements (knowledge and understanding of pesticides).
Lifestyle characteristics of farmers
Pesticide use is a highly routinized social practice. Diverse lifestyles should be considered for their different potential to contribute to (un)safe practices. Behaviour of the farmers classified on the basis of gender, age, income and farm size as various factors and courses of action intervene in it, may reflect different lifestyles. Gender is also relevant, since each sex has hormonally controlled hyper sensitivities (Duah 2002). Of the 220 farmers included in this study, the majority (97 %) were male, while none of the female farmers sprayed pesticides. Besides, males decide on which pesticides to use on the farm. Most farmers (81 %) interviewed were between 25 and 49 years old, while the average age was 37 years. Age is an important variable in the decision process (de Acedo Lizárraga et al. 2007) because younger farmers tend to be more flexible in their decisions to adopt new ideas and adopt proper and safe handling methods. Moreover, old age farmers did not trust new agricultural technology. Pesticides use practices that farmers applied already for a long period did not easily change and these farmers held on to their own conventional practices. An informant explained, ‘many older farmers still admire DDT because they associate it with their first significant agricultural gains or those of their fathers before them’. Age also relates to distribution of possible pesticide poisoning symptoms (since the elderly and children are more susceptible to toxins) (Duah 2002).
Education plays a significant role in changing farmers’ lifestyles (Ríos-González et al. 2013). In this study, 55 % of the farmers are illiterate, while only 34 % studied up to elementary (primary school) level, and could be classified as semi-literate with poor reading skills. Few (10 %) farmers had attended secondary school, while the remaining (1 %) had tertiary level education (Table 1). Literate farmers have a better understanding of the effects pesticides have on human health and the environment compared to less literate farmers (Karlsson 2004; Ríos-González et al. 2013). For instance, farmers with secondary and tertiary level reported the occurrence of pests as a major criterion for pesticide application. The majority of the less literate farmers apply pesticides haphazardly, without identifying diseases and pests. Many farmers reported insects as diseases when they were asked to name the diseases that attacked their crops. One of the vegetable farmers stated the intensity of the problem as follows. ‘The pests and diseases are the worst, as they are probably every farmers’ problems. My major problem is, every single year a new pest appears and attacks my vegetables. For instance, in 2013/14 the Tuta absoluta devastated large amount of potato’. Size of land is another important factor positively associated (χ
2 = 15.5, p = 0.001) with the amount of pesticides used. The farmers interviewed were typically smallholders with farm sizes averaging 0.75 ha, the majority (65 %) of the farmers having land holdings ≤1.0 ha and 35 % above 1.0 ha. Most of the land used by vegetable farmers was rented from local farmers with 2- to 5-year contracts (59 % of the farmers) (Table 1). The majority of the farmers (88 %) witnessed an increasing trend in pesticide use during the past five years, while 12 % considered the situation as constant and no one stated that pesticide use is decreasing (Table 1). According to the crop protection experts of the district, farmers from higher income groups are more likely to buy appropriate pesticides from official retailers or suppliers, while farmers from lower-income groups use less expensive, broad-spectrum products that are available on the open market. Similarly, lack of capital was the main reason why all farmers use knapsack sprayers rather than motorized sprayers, despite their higher chance of leaking.
Pesticide knowledge and perception as general dispositions of lifestyles
Lifestyle occupies a key position in practice theory, since human agents are carriers of practices who are seen as knowledgeable and competent practitioners, able to link and integrate the elements of meaning, material, and competence to perform a practice (Ropke 2009). Practical knowledge is part of the lifestyle as acquired social know-how which is accumulated through everyday experience. Practice theorists refer to practical knowledge as practical consciousness (Giddens 1984), as knowing ‘how to go on’ in everyday life. It is obvious that that pesticide knowledge and understanding of vegetable farmers on pesticide use is co-determining pesticide practices. In this respect, most (92 %) of the farmers knew the names of the pesticides they were using. The most commonly used pesticides were Mancozeb, Selecron, Redomil, Malathion, Karate, Thionex and Profit. Most farmers reported the use of more than four types of pesticides during one cropping season. Almost all farmers lacked extensive knowledge on the environmental and health effects from using pesticides. Although 76 % of the farmers indicated that pesticides cause damage to human health, the majority also indicated that pesticides do not cause damage to animal health (75 %) or waterbodies (91 %) (Table 2). In line with Jansen and Harmsen (2011) and Teklu et al. (2015) the environmental impacts of pesticides are not well understood by farmers in Ethiopia. Laboratory facilities to monitor environmental residues are lacking, and there is no assessment of contamination of surface waters through pesticides. Over 70 % of the farmers never read pesticide labels, because they were unable to read and understand the meaning of the label (56 %), because the labels were written in a foreign language (English, Swahili), the letter fonts too small or the language too technical (19 %). We found that only 8 % read and understood pesticide labels correctly.
Pesticide labels also contain self-explanatory pictures (for users with limited reading abilities) on safe use, safe handling and potential hazards. Table 3 shows eight pictograms normally found on pesticide labels on the Ethiopian market. Our survey shows that the majority of the farmers could not indicate the correct meaning of these pictograms, except for the pictogram “wear gloves”, only 13 farmers understood all pictograms.
About half of the farmers (53 %) considered pesticides to be always harmful, 30 % sometimes harmful and 17 % harmless. Despite the fact that pesticides are toxic products, most farmers referred to them in the local language as ‘medhanit’ (medicine). This influenced pesticides use. For example, in some rural areas farmers use highly toxic pesticides such as malathion or DDT to treat head lice, fleas and bedbugs, and even to cure open wounds. Overall, most farmers lack adequate knowledge on the potential hazards that pesticides may cause for themselves, the consumer and the environment.
Local pesticide provision system
This section deals with local provision systems and their contribution to (un)safe pesticide practices.
Types of pesticides used by farmers and system of provision
Pesticides are readily available at wholesale stores (importers), the farmers’ union and pesticides retailers. Pesticides are supplied in containers ranging from 0.25 to 5 l (sometimes even 200 l) or in packets ranging from 0.5 to 25 kg. One litre and 1 kg are the most common packages sold at retailers. In our study, 41 different types of commercial pesticides with different chemical composition (organophosphates, organochlorines, pyrethroids and carbamates) were commonly used. Organophosphates and pyrethroids, with high levels of toxicity (in WHO class II, moderately hazardous), are applied at different growing stages (see Table 4). In vegetable farming, insecticides (58 %) are the most used pesticides because of serious insect pests in vegetable production in CRV. This is followed by fungicides (42 %) usage, while herbicides are not used probably because hired labourers manually carry out weeding. This is contrary to cereal (maize and wheat) farmers, where herbicides are the predominant pesticides in use.
Table 4 shows that, while newer pesticide formulation are gradually being adopted, Ethiopia still relies largely on less expensive, ‘older’ (established), non-patented (generic), more acutely toxic and environmentally persistent agents. These latter ones are manufactured domestically or formulated from imported active ingredients. Besides, there is repeated use of the same class of pesticides (mainly class II) to control pests and diseases, while repeated use may cause pest resistance (UNU 2003; Williamson et al. 2008).
According to key informants, interviewed farmers and field observations, a considerable proportion of the pesticides applied in the study area originate from unauthorised, sometimes illicit, sources and sometimes brought in Ethiopia through illegal trading from Kenya and Sudan to local retailers. Some examples can clarify this. Endosulfan products (proposed for cotton) are frequently used on vegetables. One retailer reported that he knew the products are forbidden for vegetable production, but farmers find them very effective. By using Endosulfan, farmers effectively combat insects, especially in cabbages, and thereby reduce harvest losses. Low prices set on these pesticides by informal traders imply that they source these products from outside the official distribution channels. Also DDT (banned globally for all agricultural purposes under the Stockholm Convention but widely used in Ethiopia for malaria control) is still available and used by vegetable farmers in the CRV. In addition, double/triple registration of pesticides with the same active ingredient under different commercial or brand names is causing confusion in pesticide provisioning. For example, Mancozeb 80 % WP is available in the market under different trade names, such as Unizeb, Fungozeb, Indom and Indofil, but they all contain the same active ingredients (80 %WP). Finally, nationally unregistered pesticides (Champion 50 % WP and Aldicarb, class 1a (extremely hazardous), imported only for the flower industry, are found on tomato farms. A district state agricultural officer disclosed that flower growers sometimes import large amounts of unregistered pesticide for their large farms. Some of these products are stored for a long time, and when the expiration date comes close, they are sold for a low price to small vegetable farmers.
Provision of technical support
Pesticides are a complex, toxic and hazardous technology and most information developed during preregistration and registration is too technical for smallholder farmers. Smallholder farmers need adequate technical support from state and/or non-state actors to apply pesticides correctly. Only 23 % of the vegetable farmers and 13 out of 78 applicators obtained training from Croplife Ethiopia, in collaboration with Ethiopian Horticulture Producer Exporter Association (EHPEA). None of the hired sprayers had a pesticide applicator certificate. The majority (87 %) of the farmers did not receive any training/technical support on how to use and handle pesticides while fostering safety and sustainability. All vegetable farmers are using pesticides as the main means to control their vegetable pest problems since they are easily available and ‘highly’ effective. Other means of crop protection, e.g. integrated pest management (IPM) and biological control, are not practiced nor fully understood by the farmers. None of the trainers/advisors suggested IPM or biological control as a possible option.
Extension services could transfer ‘best pesticide practices’ from one farmer to another. However, extension workers in the region are not adequately trained in pesticide management and hence unable to provide adequate services to farmers with regard to safe use and handling of pesticides. Extension services on safe pesticide use are largely missing in the CRV and local agricultural offices provide only very general agricultural support. Moreover, the pesticide distribution system falls short due to multiple market actors, like distributors and retailers, who lack the necessary qualifications. For instance, none of the retailers had a certificate of competence, nor were any of the interviewed shops ever inspected by an inspector from the local or federal state authority. There is also no tracking system on pesticides once they are distributed. In addition, farmers complained that the government through the farmers’ union provides pesticides on higher priced credit basis than the market. Thus in order to pay back the loan, farmers are forced to sell their vegetables to the union.
Pesticide use and selection practices
Practice based analysis takes practices as the unit of analysis. This means that individuals are considered as the carriers of practices. Smallholder farmers relate to two practices when dealing with pesticides; pesticide use (handling) practices and pesticide-buying (selecting) practices.
To evaluate farmers’ (un)safe pesticide practices, farmers were interviewed on their application practices during the past year (including storage, application rate, quantity, method, product mixing, and frequency of applications), disposal of empty containers, use of protective gears and precautions taken after application. We found that about 32 % of the farmers stored pesticides in the house, often under their bed or hanging from the roof or the wall. Such storage can easily be accessed by children, creating the risk of accidental poisoning of family members. The majority (57 %) of the farmers stored their pesticides in a small hut made from wood and grass at farm fields (called camp), where sprayers also sleep. Hired sprayers reported that they used these small huts for living and cooking, and stored pesticides together with agricultural tools (seeds, knapsack and water pumping machine). The remaining 11 % stored their pesticides in a separate place; sometimes pesticides are buried in the ground, safe from thieves, children and other unauthorized people.
Most farmers (87 %) mix two pesticides before application, while 13 % use both single and cocktail sprays. Cocktails help farmers to save time and labour and are considered to have a higher efficacy in pests and diseases control. Label instructions do not cover mixtures of two or more pesticides and provide no information on the compatibility of inert ingredients such as emulsifiers and wetting agents. However,unspecified tank of mixing of insceticide and fungicide are common practices with the vegetable farmers (Table 5). Besides, farmers did not consider that these kind of mixing of products could be less effective and cause adverse effects to thier heatlh or the environment. Mixtures follow either retailer recommendations or common practices in the area. It is risky to mix two different types of formulations, for example wettable powders (WP) with emulsified concentrates (EC). Ngowi et al. (2007) reported that interactions between insecticides, fungicides and water mineral content can influence the efficacy (more toxic, less efficient, neutralized or resistant) of pesticides against fungal pathogens and insect mortality, while some mixtures induced phytotoxicity on tomato, onion and cabbage.
Most farmers (74 %) mix their pesticides close to a river, canal or community water source (Table 6), which are used by local residents for drinking, cooking and other domestic purposes. Mixing takes place in a knapsack or container, often using a long stick but sometimes with bare hands (Table 6). None of the farmers wears gloves and/or closed boots, enhancing direct contact of hands and feet with pesticides. The mixing containers are reused by 48 % of the farmers for other activities, such as carrying vegetables from the field or washing clothes.
In the CRV, farmers generally use a higher dosage of pesticides than recommended, under the misconception that a higher dose means better eradication of pests. Assessing the exact overdoses proved difficult, because unlabelled units (such as tins) and different combinations of pesticides were used.
Although farmers keep no records of the amount of pesticides sprayed, they explained that their spraying frequency varied, depending on climatic conditions (rainy and dry season) and crops. During rainy seasons, when pests and diseases proliferate, farmers spray more. Then most farmers apply increased dosages as from experience the recommended amount proved ineffective; they use the term mooq (a bit higher than the dose). They intend to eliminate pests at once and/or reduce spraying frequency. A wide range of dose rates (both excessive and reduced) were applied. For example, the recommended dose of CruzateR WP on tomato was 200–300 g per 100 l of water per hectare to manage downy mildew and early blight. However, a farmer in Ziway diluted this amount of pesticide in 200 l of water, mixed it with Ethiotate 40 % EC and sprayed the mixture on 0.75 ha farm land. In Meki, a farmer used Matco 8–64 with profit 72 in a dose of 1 kg/200 l water/ha, instead of the recommended 1 kg/500 l water/ha to manage Downy mildew on onion. If pests are not sufficiently reduced after pesticides application, farmers increased the concentration, the frequency and/or changed the types of pesticides without any instruction. Some tomato farmers mix insecticides and fungicides and spray as many as 17 times in a wet season and eight times in a dry season, while a maximum of five is recommended when the worst infestation occurs. The longer growing season of crops like tomato entails a higher frequency of sprays per season. No farmer follows the recommended spraying intervals. For instance, for spraying 1.75 kg Indom per ha mixed per 100 l of water to control late blight in tomato, the recommended interval is 10 days. However, a farmer mixed this pesticide with Agro Thoate 40 % EC in 200 l of water and repeated this every five days.
Landholders (i.e. farmers who have land use rights but no land title) generally apply significantly more pesticides per hectare than landowners (with land titles) (χ
2 = 42.5, p < 0.001). Landholders minimize subjective (uncertainty) and objective (disease, weather variation, pest infestation etc.) risks in order to obtain the income necessary to pay the rent for the land. Farmers give three reasons for the current (high) pesticide use: low efficacy of pesticides compared to the standards, pressure from retailers and their technical guidance and high incidence of diseases/pests (Table 6). However, in maintaining long-run relationships with farmers, some retailers do not deliberately misguide farmers towards overdoses for short-term profits.
The most common pesticide spraying equipment was the manual (hand pump) knapsack sprayer of 15, 20 or 25 l. The use of a knapsack sprayer exposes the sprayers to health dangers. Knapsacks often leak, especially in a hot climate. Water drawn from the river, well or pond is often not filtered, and the debris in the tank frequently leads to nozzle blockages. We observed that many nozzles were in poor condition, either worn out or damaged because knives or wires were used to clear blockages. Consequently, the nozzles were atomising poorly. This comes with limited use of personal protective equipment while spraying pesticides. Ethiopian farmers usually spray pesticides dressed only in T-shirts, shorts and slippers that offer little protection (see Fig. 2). The majority of the farmers (81 %) wore their normal clothes during spraying, whereas 19 % wore inadequate overalls that did not cover most parts of the body. During our observation, no one was using gloves, glasses, masks or goggles. The large majority of the sprayers did not shower after pesticide spraying and carried on working in the field. Our close observation of spraying practices at the site revealed some unsafe practices. As a sprayer in Ziway district explained, ‘I do not wear PPE when I apply (spray) pesticides since I feel uncomfortable and I work cumbersomely. This makes me work very slowly and I cannot finish my job on time’. Another informant in Meki said, ‘When I once wore PPE, I could not breath comfortably because of hot weather and I sweated, then my PPE got wet. After that I did not wear it’. None of pesticides companies makes efforts to provide protective gears and equipment free of charge or at a cheaper price to enable farmers to buy them. Even when a farmer is aware of the risks associated with pesticide use and wants to wear protective gear, he often cannot access it; protective clothing is very expensive. The main reasons mentioned for not using protective equipment were lack of availability (not provided) and affordability, while some considered it uncomfortable under local hot and humid climates. As sprayers are not trained in safe handling of pesticides, they did not ascribe any health problem encountered to pesticide exposure. Nevertheless, over 55 % of the sprayers reported at least one of a number of symptoms of acute pesticide poisoning within 24 h after spraying pesticides. Half of them also indicated that they witnessed a fellow farmer being intoxicated by pesticides. The most frequently reported symptoms were eye irritation (25 %), backache (22 %), vomiting (21 %), burning skin/rash (15 %), shortness of breath (11 %) and headache/dizziness (6 %). Young farmers more often reported possible poisoning cases than the old farmers. For example, 23 % of young farmers said they never had any symptom of pesticide poisoning, compared to 38 % of the old farmers. There are important differences between landholders and hired labourers on pesticide use practices. Hired labour (87 %) was the dominant work force for landholders, but most landowners used family labour (73 %). Landholders who contract hired labour for pesticide spraying tend to explain (1) pesticide poisoning as a result of sloppiness during pesticide application and (2) voluntary pesticide intake as mental craziness. In contrast, hired workers tend to explain (1) pesticide poisoning as occupational risk and (2) voluntary pesticide intake as a desperate decision. Moreover, according to a landholder: if workers get sick due to pesticide application, it is because these people do not take proper care at home and in the field. On the other hand, a hired labourer’s opinion was: we got sick because we are forced to live in continuous exposure to pesticide, this is the only way to survive here. At least here, I can survive even if I have to respire pesticides every day.
The common way of disposing empty pesticide containers was throwing them in the field (97 %), irrigation canals or rivers (82 %). Alternatively, they were buried, burned, reused for water or food storage, and sold (Table 6). Pesticide containers were also placed on sticks to protect the crop from birds. Most of these disposal measures for pesticides packaging come with significant environment and health risks, as usually around 2 % of the pesticides still remains in the empty packaging (Briassoulis et al. 2014). Suppliers (importers, unions and retailers) and even local authorities often recommend burning or burying empty packages, which is also potentially hazardous to human health and the environment.
Generally, Table 6 shows the actual behavioural practices situated in time and space that an individual farmer shares with other farmers. Similar lifestyles should be considered for their similar practices to contribute to unsafe pesticide handling. On the other hand, social practices are always shared resulting in common storylines and experiences. Each farmer may have some freedom to act, but their actions are nevertheless constrained by the accepted rules of behaviour which characterize particular pesticide use practices. Up to a certain level, the farmers share an understanding of the use of pesticides: what it means and how it should be performed. Pesticides were considered important in trying to get a good yield and reduce risks of pests and diseases. On the other hand, while at least partly bounded by the practices they practiced, farmers’ personal characteristics also had an influence. Under the same conditions of rising pesticide prices and low vegetable prices, some farmers pushed towards ‘cost minimization’. Some landholders were not keen on testing a new product, but rather waited until others had proved them to work. Other farmers (landowners) used their own long year experience to decide on pesticide application.
Buying (selection) practices
Consumption behaviour is embedded in social, cultural, economic and institutional infrastructures over which consumers have little influence (Barnett et al. 2011). This argument is also valid with respect to farmers’ pesticide selection as discussed in this research. Vegetable farmers can be conceptualized as passive or ‘captive’ users to a great extent. For the supply of pesticides, they are largely dependent on the local, uncertified and unlicensed pesticide retailers. This clearly shows that the choice of pesticides to be used by farmers is directly influenced by the provision side. Pesticide selection can therefore to a considerable extent be explained by focusing on some of the structural characteristics of the current systems of pesticides provision in Ethiopia.
For vegetable farmers pesticide selection is done on the basis of availability. Most farmers (79 %) reported that for them efficacy was the most important criterion when selecting pesticides, while 21 % regarded price (affordability) the most important selection consideration. All farmers reported that pesticides constitute their most expensive input in tomato and onion production compared to other inputs, such as fertilizers, labour, water pumps or seeds. Concerns about the toxicity, residue effects, environmental impacts or risk/benefits for themselves or consumers were not important considerations in pesticide selection. Farmers also purchased less expensive but broad-spectrum (and thus toxic) products (e.g. DDT), which are suitable for all kind of pests that require control. Twelve observations in shops learned that farmers usually buy pesticides in small quantities whereby they rarely read the instructions. For instance, 67 % of farmers did not check the expiry date of the pesticides they purchased, and most farmers (55 %), are illiterate (Table 1). Farmers trust their pesticide providers and lack knowledge on the importance of the expiry date. In quite a few shops, we observed farmers buying expired pesticides (e.g. Coragen 250SC, Karate 2.5 %EC, Mancolaxyl 72 %WP), and pesticides without manufacturing and expiring dates (e.g. Ethiothoate 40 % EC, Profit 72 % EC).
Information from suppliers can have a strong influence on the correct and efficient selection of pesticides, especially for small-scale farmers who have no other source of information to rely on. However, none of the pesticide importers employed technical personnel at district or farm level to disseminate information, to assess product handling of retailers or to deal with farmers’ complaints. Similarly, all 12 pesticide shops visited did not provide customer advice on pesticides. Table 7 shows that farmers mainly depend on neighbours and their own past experiences in the selection and use of pesticides.
As the majority of farmers select (60 %) and use (61 %) pesticides on the basis of their own personal experience, farmers (especially those farming for more than 5 years) are likely to know the name and quality of the pesticides available in the market. Pesticides like Selecron, Mancozeb, Malathion and Ridomil indeed proved to be well known by the majority of the interviewed farmers. According to extension workers, pesticide advertisements continue to encourage farmers to buy cheap and generic, but toxic and persistent pesticides. All retailers expected pesticide sales to increase in the near future because of the growing number of vegetable farmers, the higher occurrence of pests and diseases and the current perception that pesticides are required to obtain a good harvest (or any harvest at all). Farmers hardly relied on information and recommendations from extension agents, which confirms the limited role of government authorities in pesticide management in Ethiopia (Mengistie et al. 2014).
In general, since farmers purchase pesticides from the local retailers, they cannot decide what kind of pesticide will be used. Farmers are not offered a choice for bio- and safe pesticide in a similar way as is the case in some developed countries. They also depend on the experience of neighbouring farmers to know how ‘effective’ a pesticide is.