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Safe use training in East Africa

Contributed by Collins Wanyama MSc, Real IPM, Kenya.

The whole purpose of ‘safe use of pesticide’ training is to ensure there is a change in operator behaviour and not just to get the operator a piece of paper for the next audit.

To go from this:

Image of old, rusting, leaking tractor mounted spraying equipment whose operator is not wearing personal protective equipment (12 Kb JPEG)
Old, rusting, leaking tractor mounted spraying equipment whose operator is not wearing personal protective equipment
Operator preparing to spray with no personal protective equipment and with uncovered hands and toes (12 Kb JPEG)
Operator preparing to spray with no personal protective equipment and with uncovered hands and toes (12 Kb JPEG)

To this:

Image of competent, well prepared operator and equipment (15 Kb JPEG)
Competent, well prepared operator and equipment
Image of operator exhibiting the highest professional standards using an air assisted knapsack sprayer in peas (12 Kb JPEG)
Operator exhibiting the highest professional standards using an air assisted knapsack sprayer in peas

Training is the first recognised step to improved practices but to effect a change in behaviour can be challenging. This type of behaviour-altering training; the training of spray operators in the handling and safe use of pesticides is a key activity of Real IPM, Kenya

Maximising effectiveness

The aim of the training is to enable spraying machine operators to be able to apply pesticides safely, effectively and efficiently. In particular this means that the right dose must be applied to the right crop under the right weather conditions. Detailed guidance on how to achieve this is included on the pesticide label and so Real IPM place much emphasis on the understanding of pesticide labels and how these written needs are fulfilled in practice. Critically, operators must be able to calibrate and spray a named product at the prescribed dose whilst fulfilling all personal and environmental safety needs.

To maximise the impact of training sessions, Real IPM adopt the following basics:

  • Training manuals - written in both English and Swahili - are provided for all trainees. 
  • Training is fully participative. Theory, practical demonstrations and hands on use means that operators can put into practice what they are taught and physically demonstrate their understanding (or misunderstanding). 
  • The maximum group size for training is thus 15 persons; smaller groups means that trainers have the time to tailor support to the needs of each operator. 
  • A final individual assessment ensures that only those participants who have attained the required skill level receive certificates of competence; ‘certificates of attendance’ are not issued to those who fail to achieve competency standard to avoid any later misuse or misunderstandings. 
  • Trainees who cannot read or write are offered a verbal assessment to demonstrate competence.
  • Feedback about each individual is given to employers which helps the employer to evaluate whether the benefit gained from training is worth the cost. Typical feedback includes:
    o the operator’s attitude to the course,
    o the level of understanding the operator has of pesticide use,
    o where improvements to practice may need to be made,
    o whether the operator is competent to use these products in which crops and
    o whether the operator has concerns about facilities provided by the employer .

Training Insights:

Where spray operators are being retrained, there is a risk of complacency and an attitude of “yes we were trained last year and we know already”; a risk that further training may  not always be taken seriously.  To counter this attitude, the challenge for the trainer is to make the training interactive and appealing to both the experienced trainee alongside the newcomer. It is critical at the start of each course to set each student a challenge which is within their grasp and motivates their involvement. Thus all those who pass achieve a set standard of competence whilst some in the group are enabled to achieve higher levels of competence.

The involvement of the supervisors and managers in at least one of the training sessions is important.  There is a risk that the trainer can be saying one thing whilst the management might be asking other requirements; getting all to “sing from the same hymn sheet” is critically important.

Why train?

Because the requirements of consumers - and regulatory bodies around the world - demand it.

Kenya is a major exporter and supplier of horticultural produce to one of the most demanding global regions; the EU. This and other major markets demand verified assurance that the crops have been produced to the highest standards with due consideration to the health and well being of the employees who have grown [and sprayed] them. Crop Assurance schemes may dictate which pesticides may be used and how; conditions that may even exceed the mandatory and advised pesticide label information. There are checks too.  For instance, in the chain from farm to retail, control points exist that demand proof of compliance with questions such as “Do all workers handling or administering … plant protection products … have certificates of competence and or details of such other qualifications”.  These certificates have to be current and are usually retested on an annual basis.

Safe use of pesticides by spray operators is also a major component of Good Agricultural Practice (GAP). GAP is a voluntary scheme that helps to ensure that workers, the environment and crops are kept safe and that the sprayed product complies with all its conditions of approval.  In East Africa an important driver for the adoption of safe use of pesticides in horticulture has been the privately promoted standards that the industry is adopting.

Training is thus funded by the growers themselves or with the assistance of programmes like the EU’s Pesticide Initiative Programme (PIP).  A primary objective of PIP is “to enable companies of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) to comply with European food safety and traceability requirements. Failure to comply with EU requirements will lead to loss of these markets and would be catastrophic to the economics of many countries.

Kenya’s lead encourages its neighbours; our adoption of ‘Safe Use of Pesticide’ training is spreading to other sectors of Agriculture in East Africa and this includes prestigious crops such as coffee. 

Whilst the news media may cite the occasional abuse with pesticides, this country’s  codes of practice and its effective and welcomed training are being adopted more widely; a great African success story