The Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, has warned of disastrous health consequences if farmers continue to indiscriminately apply chemicals on their farms.
“The increasing and uncontrolled application of chemical substances in agriculture in the country may in future present the nation with diseases in epidemic proportions,” he stated.
He said practices such as the application of formalin in the preservation of ‘koobi’, the application of atrazine as a weedicide, lambda-cyhalothrin, known in Ghana as karate, as insecticides, the use of some pesticides in the palm wine business and the treatment of animals with growth hormones and antibiotics presented a health disaster awaiting explosion.
Prof. Frimpong-Boateng was addressing the ninth biennial Supreme Subordinate Convention of the Knights of St John International (KSJI) and Ladies Auxiliary at the University of Ghana, Legon, yesterday.
The conference, on the theme: “Our environment, our heritage – The role of civil society (KSJI) in its preservation”, is in response to the call by Pope Francis for the citizenry to care for the common heritage of mankind.
The call challenges everyone to preserve and protect the environment, our common heritage.
Destroying the environment
Prof. Frimpong-Boateng noted that “our forebears handed over the environment to us in a pristine state and we should manage it responsibly for the sake of future generations”.
“But the truth on the ground is that this generation is bent on destroying the environment and themselves,” he observed.
On what his ministry was doing to address the concerns, he said his ministry was liaising with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) to educate farmers on the implications of the indiscriminate use of those chemicals.
He said the use of chemicals on vegetables was necessary to prevent insects from destroying the crop, but stressed that farmers needed to apply the right dosage and at the right time.
Prof. Frimpong-Boateng said the situation used to be worse some three or more years ago, but the employment of more agricultural extension officers reduced the practice significantly, although he admitted that more work needed to be done in that regard.
He warned traders who used formalin and those who melted plastic into oil to fry plantain chips for the chips to have a shining look to desist from those acts because officers were constantly monitoring the market to fish them out.
He said when the issue of formalin came up, a team visited all the major markets to take samples of ‘koobi’ and educated the traders on the implications of their activities, adding that six months later when the team went round, the practice had stopped.
He said atrazine, the most widely used weed killer in the country and which is applied liberally, especially by maize farmers, had been found to be unsafe.
Prof. Frimpong-Boateng recalled a scientific publication in 2002 that indicated that “atrazine causes serious sexual abnormalities in male frogs exposed to the pesticide levels of 0.1 parts per billion”.
“The levels allowed in drinking water in the United States (US) is three parts per billion, which is 30 times higher than the level at which the abnormalities in male frogs were observed.
“The deformities included having both ovaries and testes and the testes containing eggs, in addition to sperms,” he said, adding that a study conducted by the manufacturers of atrazine, a Swiss-owned company, found a 3.5 times higher incidence of prostate cancer in workers at the company.
He said karate, which is extensively and liberally used by all vegetable farmers in the country, might affect the nerves in the upper limbs of humans, possibly as a local toxic manifestation.
“A study on karate in pregnant and lactating goats conducted by the Centre for Toxicological Assistance, Institute of Biosciences, Sao Paulo, Brazil showed that lambda-cyhalothrin is absorbed through the skin and eliminated in colostrum (the first breast secretion after giving birth, rich in antibodies) and milk.
“Residues in blood of offspring prior to ingestion of colostrums demonstrated placental transfer of cyhalothrin,” Prof. Frimpong-Boateng pointed out.
Protecting the environment
He concluded that the continued destruction of the environment was self-inflicted and called on all to play a part to stop it.
“When we destroy the environment, we destroy ourselves. We rely on nature for our critical needs, including medicine, food, air and water for free, yet we show signs of ungratefulness by destroying nature through activities such as deforestation, mining, air pollution and improper waste management,” he pointed out.
The minister, a celebrated scientist and cardiothoracic surgeon, said it was the duty of all to take steps to protect and conserve the environment by disposing of refuse, especially plastics, responsibly, using water wisely and growing trees.
Prof. Frimpong-Boateng expressed gratitude to the knights for recognising the critical role the environment played, not only in supporting the resource base of the country for economic growth, jobs and development but, more importantly, securing “our very survival as human beings”.
In a goodwill message, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra, the Most Rev. John Bonaventure Kwofie, said the Catholic Church had shown leadership with the message from Pope Francis.
Touching on the importance of the ecosystem in relation to the survival of humans, he said: “We need to take seriously the various lives of the ecosystem given to us by nature. Our call is to take good care of what God has created.”
The Supreme Subordinate Commandery President of the KSJI, Major General James B. Dassah, who chaired the opening session of the three-day convention, gave the background of the group and explained that it was a fraternal Catholic organisation that sought to, among other things, promote fraternity and fellowship among members.
He said the society was also there to assist members and their families in time of need, as well as promote social justice among all men.
Maj. Gen. Dassah acknowledged the efforts by the government and various civil society organisations in tackling issues concerning the environment, adding: “While we commend these laudable efforts, we are, however, convinced that a lot more needs to be done if the war on the environment must be won.”
Major Gen. Peter Sangber-Dery was elected and installed as the Worthy President of the Supreme Subordinate Commandery, Ghana.
By that position, he becomes the Trustee of the Supreme Commandery, with headquarters in New York, USA.