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Farm safety is a shared responsibility

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Farm safety is a shared responsibility


Worker safety is a contentious issue in many industries across the world. While safety incidents in mining and manufacturing often grab the headlines, the safety of farm workers tend to be more of a consumer advocacy cause. In especially Europe, consumer activism was instrumental in the tightening of food quality regulations that now extend to farm worker well-being.


Recognising that the use of pesticides is a factor that influences working conditions on farms, Syngenta included farm worker safety in its Good Growth Plan. The plan is Syngenta’s response to the reality that every day, our planet wakes with nearly 200 000 more mouths to feed and more farmland lost to erosion. It is also true that many people who produce the world’s food live in poverty, while human encroachment is putting biodiversity under pressure.


The Good Growth Plan consists of six commitments that Syngenta has set out to achieve by 2020. One of these is to “Help people stay safe”. It has as its global goal the training of 20 million farm workers, especially in developing countries, on labour safety.


In 2016 alone, the company trained 6.8 million people across the globe on how to farm better and safer. This brings the cumulative total to over 17 million since the Good Growth Plan started. Around 70% of this total are smallholders and/or farm workers in developing countries.


In South Africa, Syngenta has already trained some 5 000 individuals, including farmers, farm workers and agents, on the safe use of crop protection chemicals. 


Inspired by the tenets of the Good Growth Plan, and the obligations it places on all Syngenta regions to contribute, Syngenta South Africa has strengthened its safety training approach by increasing its direct engagement with the end-users of its products.


Francois Viljoen, technical field expert: herbicides at Syngenta, says that Safe Use Training has always been a priority, but one that was discharged through Syngenta’s agents. The company ran regular train-the-trainer workshops for agents, and provided them with presentations and material to spread the message further.


“What has changed, is that we are now highlighting the shared nature of safety by hosting and presenting farm worker sessions in partnership with our distribution channel,” says Viljoen.


One of these interactions took place early in September in the form of a workshop hosted on the farm Huntersvlei near Viljoenskroon in the Free State. Almost 200 growers and farm workers who work with pesticides and operate spraying equipment attended the event. After an in-depth presentation on the principles of safe use, the attendees participated in a practical exercise where application equipment and practices were demonstrated. Each person who attended received a certificate.


“We believe that the safety of agrochemicals is a shared responsibility,” says Francois. Syngenta as the developer and manufacturer has the obligation to ensure it produces the best possible quality products that are thoroughly researched and legally registered. Stable, registered formulations that are free of contaminants pose no risk to humans and the environment when used according to the instructions on the product label.


Creating the latter falls to the grower. It includes the provision of training, appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE), proper lockable storage facilities and well-maintained application equipment, including spray nozzles.


But the above comes to nought when the operators of spray equipment do not observe safe-use practices.


Having all three role players in the same room certainly brings the shared responsibility message home.


“We understand that safe-use practices are just one of the numerous challenges growers have to attend to every day, therefore we do what we can to make compliance as easy as possible,” says Francois.


Safety is not an event; it requires a consistent and sustained effort. The long-term view of the Good Growth Plan, combined with Syngenta’s training investment, is a methodology that promises results.