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124 KWADWO ASENSO-OKYERE, CATHERINE CHIANG, PAUL THANGATA, AND KWAW S. ANDAM


Impacts of Farm Labor on Health Just as health and disease can affect farm labor and productivity, the opposite is also true. Under ideal conditions, agriculture provides farmers and farm laborers with food, nutrition, and the income necessary to access water, land, information, education, and healthcare services. But farm labor can also have an adverse effect on health and nutritional status


due to the high expenditure of energy and time it demands—time that might be better spent on child care, food preparation, and nutrition-related activities. Farm labor can also expose workers to a range of occupational health hazards, such as accidents, diseases, and poisoning from pesticides. Farm labor can affect the health of workers through the following pathways.


• Pesticide use: As pesticide use has increased in developing countries, so, too, has pesticide poisoning in farmers, which can lead to hormone disruption; immune suppression; skin and eye damage; and chronic cardiopulmonary, neurological, and hematological problems. A recent estimate by the World Bank puts deaths caused by pesticide poisoning at 355,000 annually; two-thirds of those deaths occur in developing countries. Farm laborers do not always use protective clothing or equipment, which could be because (1) they are not aware of the dangers posed by pesticide exposure, (2) the necessary clothing and equipment are unavailable or unaffordable, or (3) there are no regulations enforcing these precautions. Many of the direct consequences from pesticides can be mitigated if protective measures are taken and recommended methods are followed when mixing and applying chemicals. Pesticides, however, also contaminate drinking water and crops that receive higher doses of pesticides, such as fruits and vegetables, thus posing serious health hazards to general consumers as well. Efforts to curtail this contamination will also require research, regulations, and monitoring. Improper use of pesticides also has less direct impacts on the health of farm


laborers’ family members and their overall household well-being. Research on a potato farming community in Ecuador revealed a rate of 171 pesticide poisonings per 100,000 people during 1991−92, which is 10 times the level reported by the Ministry of Health. Recuperation time averaged 11 days of lost labor wages, with the median indirect cost to the worker estimated at US$8.33 per case—more than five days’ income (at US$1.50 per day). In addition to the main pesticide applicators, hospital records showed numerous cases of pesticide poisoning of women and children (Antle, Cole, and Crissman 1998). It is important to con- sider health effects in the economic analysis of pesticide adoption because the costs of crop loss to pests might well be lower than the direct (treatment) and indirect (lost income during recovery) costs of pesticide-related illness and the subsequent loss in farm labor productivity (Rola and Pingali 1993).


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