Potential health effects of pesticide use on farmworkers in Lesotho

  • Tholang A. Mokhele Population Health, Health Systems and Innovation, Human Sciences Research Council
Keywords: pesticides, farmworkers, Lesotho, health effects, exposure, training


This study examined the experiences of farmworkers during crop spraying in Lesotho. The main goal of this study was to determine the perceptions and awareness of farmworkers regarding the use of pesticides and the potential effects on their health. The data were obtained from farmworkers using a combination of an open-ended and a close-ended structured questionnaire in July 2006. Of the nine farms serviced by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security of Lesotho, Agricultural Research Division, six farms were randomly chosen and 27 farmworkers from these farms were interviewed. The data were analysed using descriptive statistics such as frequency tables. The results showed that farmworkers are relatively poorly educated and that a greater health risk is present when a lack of training and education on the use of pesticides also exists. That is, the majority (85%) of farmworkers did not have secondary education and most (93%) had no training on the use of pesticides, which poses a great health threat to the farmworkers. A lack of education makes it difficult for farmworkers to read and understand the information labels on pesticides and hence it is difficult for them to understand the health hazards of pesticides and the need for personal safety measures. When using and handling pesticides, 52% of farmworkers did not use rubber gloves and 93% did not use goggles or other forms of face cover. This lack of protection puts them at serious risk of skin exposure to pesticides. The farmworkers were quite aware of the harmful effects of pesticides, but were sometimes unable to translate this awareness into their own safety practices because of a lack of knowledge about the adverse effects. Therefore, training, extension services and various awareness programmes should be promoted in Lesotho in order to increase farmworkers’ knowledge and awareness of the adverse effects of pesticides on human health and the environment.

Author Biography

Tholang A. Mokhele, Population Health, Health Systems and Innovation, Human Sciences Research Council

School of Environmental Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal


1. Ministry of Agriculture, Cooperatives and Land Reclamation. District-economic strategy. Maseru: Ministry of Agriculture, Cooperatives and Land Reclamation; 2002.

2. Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture. Development and harmonization of toxic and hazardous chemicals legislation: Findings report; toxic and hazardous chemicals (control and management) draft bill and draft regulation. Maseru: Mophethe-Nkuebe Chambers (Pty) Ltd; 2005.

3. Miller GT. Living in the environment: Principles, connections and solutions. 10th ed. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company; 1998.

4. Clarke EEK, Levy LS, Spurgeon A. The problems associated with pesticide use by irrigation workers in Ghana. Occup Mod. 1997;47(5):301–308. doi:10.1093/occmed/47.5.301, PMid:9302813

5. Ngowi AVF, London L. Action on pesticides under the Programme on Work and Health in Southern Africa (WAHSA). Afr Newslett Occup Health Safety. 2006;16:15–19.

6. Naidoo S, London L, Rother HA, et al. Pesticide safety training and practices in women working in small-scale agriculture in South Africa. Occup Environ Med. 2010;67(12):823–828. doi:10.1136/oem.2010.055863, PMid:20576924

7. Chitra GA, Muraleedharan VR, Swaminathan T, et al. Use of pesticides and its impact on health of farmers in South India. Int J Occup Environ Health. 2006;12(3):228–333. PMid:16967829

8. Ngowi AVF, MbiseaTJ, Ijani ASM, et al. Smallholder vegetable farmers in Northern Tanzania: Pesticides use practices, perceptions, cost and health effects. Crop Prot. 2007;26:1617–1624. doi:10.1016/j.cropro.2007.01.008, PMid:18528532, PMCid:2410092

9. Mourad TA. Adverse impact of insecticides on health of Palestinian farm workers in the Gaza Strip: A hematologic biomarker study. Int J Occup Environ Health. 2005;11(2):144–149. PMid:15875890

10. McCauley LA, Anger WK, Keifer M, et al. Studying health outcomes in farmworker populations exposed to pesticides. Environ Health Perspect. 2006;114:953–960. doi:10.1289/ehp.8526, PMid:16760000, PMCid:1480483

11. Hoppin JA, Valcin M, Henneberger PK, et al. Pesticide use and chronic bronchitis among farmers in the agricultural health study. Am J Ind Med. 2007;50(12):969–979. doi:10.1002/ajim.20523, PMid:17975796, PMCid:2806052

12. Abhilash PC, Singh N. Pesticide use and application: An Indian scenario. J Hazard Mater. 2009;165:1–12. doi:10.1016/j.jhazmat.2008.10.061, PMid:19081675

13. Cumming SG, Spiesman JB. Regional problems need integrated solutions: Pest management and conservation biology in agroecosystems. Biol Conserv. 2006;131(4):533–543. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2006.02.025

14. Obopile M, Munthali DC, Matilo B. Farmers’ knowledge, perceptions and management of vegetable pests and diseases in Botswana. Crop Prot. 2008;27:1220–1224. doi:10.1016/j.cropro.2008.03.003

15. Isin S, Yildirim I. Fruit-growers’ perceptions on the harmful effects of pesticides and their reflection on practices: The case of Kemalpasa, Turkey. Crop Prot. 2007;26:917–922. doi:10.1016/j.cropro.2006.08.006

16. Salameh PR, Baldi I, Brochard P, et al. Pesticides in Lebanon: A knowledge, attitude, and practice study. Environ Res. 2004;94:1–6. doi:10.1016/S0013-9351(03)00092-6

17. Richter ED, Safi J. Pesticide use, exposure, and risk: A joint Israeli–Palestinian perspective. Environ Res. 1997;73:211–218. doi:10.1006/enrs.1997.3717, PMid:9311550

18. Richter ED, Gasteyer S, El Haj S, et al. Agricultural sustainability, pesticides exposure, and health risks: Israel, the Palestinian National Authority, and Jordan. Ann NY Acad Sci. 1997;837:269–290. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1997.tb56880.x, PMid:9472346

19. Kogan M. Integrated pest management: Historical perspectives and contemporary developments. Annu Rev Entomol. 1998;43:243–270. doi:10.1146/annurev.ento.43.1.243, PMid:9444752

20. Ntow WJ, Gijzen HJ, Kelderman P, et al. Farmer perceptions and pesticide use practices in vegetable production in Ghana. Pest Manag Sci. 2006;62:356–365. doi:10.1002/ps.1178, PMid:16532443

21. Arcury TA, Quandt SA, Barr DB, et al. Farmworker exposure to pesticides: Methodological issues for the collection of comparable data. Environ Health Perspect. 2006;114(6):923–928. doi:10.1289/ehp.8531, PMid:16759996, PMCid:1480495

22. Ntow WJ, Tagoe LM, Drechsel P, et al. Occupational exposure to pesticides: Blood cholinesterase activity in a farming community in Ghana. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2009;56:623–630. doi:10.1007/s00244-007-9077-2, PMid:19112562

23. Ngowi AVF. A study of farmers’ knowledge, attitude and experience in the use of pesticides in coffee farming. Afr Newslett Occup Health Safety. 2003;13:62.

24. Lekei EE, Mununa FT, Uronu AB. Pesticide labels and risk reduction in developing countries. Afr Newslett Occup Health Safety. 2004;14:57–60.

25. Williamson S, Ball A, Jules Pretty J. Trends in pesticide use and drivers for safer pest management in four African countries. Crop Prot. 2008;27:1327–1334. doi:10.1016/j.cropro.2008.04.006

26. Cole DC, Sherwood S, Crissman C, et al. Pesticides and health in highland Ecuadorian potato production: Assessing impacts and developing responses. Int J Occup Environ Health. 2002;8(3):182–190. PMid:12358074

27. Matthews G, Wiles T, Baleguel P. A survey of pesticide application in Cameroon. Crop Prot. 2003;22:707–714.

28. Farquhar S, Shadbeh N, Samples J, et al. Occupational conditions and well-being of indigenous farmworkers. Am J Public Health. 2008;98:1956–1959. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2007.124271, PMid:18799774, PMCid:2636431