By LEVY BANDA
ZAMBIA has been grappling with the challenge of increasing agriculture production by increasing yields and reducing pests in the country’s quest to enhance food security.
In fact, the challenge is even bigger now than ever before because of the temptation to introduce Zambian farmers to the use of biotechnology in their agricultural activities.
And it is US-based firms and organisations that have been spearheading and popularising such unsustainable agro methods characterised by toxic chemicals, but is contributing to several environmental challenges and reducing the country’s climate change resilience.
In 2002, late president Levy Mwanawasa’s regime faced major challenges from American and European influencers who were keen to introduce genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country.
President Mwanawasa must be turning in his grave today because the decisions he made against biotechnology, especially GMOs and the use of toxic chemicals in farming have been overturned and these technologies have taken centre-stage.
Bayer Crop Science is a sub-division of Bayer, an American corporation that provides a wide range of products and services that they claim to enable sustainable agriculture for farmers.
A research in Chongwe, 45 kilometres from Lusaka, the capital city found that Bayer Crop Science is involved in the production of GMO seeds, seed treatments, herbicides, insecticides, and other products.
The company claims these products and chemical help farmers to control pests and weeds and maximise crop production.
Apart from agriculture chemicals, Bayer Crop Science is also involved in the production of aspirin, Yasmin birth-control pills and a stroke prevention drug Xarelto.
Recently, Bayer Crop Science were accused of producing and spreading agriculture and birth control products that contained ingredients, which had cancer causing cells, but the company quickly denied the claims that its product like the weed killer Round-Up which is a product of Glyphosate go against science.
The company claims the product got clearance from the US-based Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
But farmers from different parts of rural and peri-urban Zambia have horrific experiences with the weed killer Round-Up, while some have been left with graphic life changing bodily scares after inhaling or coming in contact with the agro-chemicals from Bayer Crop Science.
There is a large farming bloc called Kanakantapa in Chongwe where a promising young farmer has been left with life changing wounds as a result of a glyphosate-based weed killer called Round-Up, a product of US agrochemical dealer Bayer Crop Science.
In an interview in Kanakantapa recently, Mr Clement Kalima, aged 27 said he had part of his face burnt-out by Round-Up when he was working on his Sunflower farm during the 2022 farming season.
“My eye-sight is so poor, I literally have no sense of smell and my skin is burnt because I chose to use Round-Up. My life will never be the same again,” he said.
Round-Up is a weed killer that has affected millions of users in Zambia and scientists are carrying out studies to ascertain its contents after some farmers developed tumours and lumps that looked like lymphoma.
In 2022, Reuters News Agency reported that the U.S. Supreme Court had rejected Bayer’s bid to dismiss legal claims by customers who contend its Round-Up weed killer causes cancer as the company sought to avoid potentially billions of dollars in damages.
The use of agriculture chemicals in production systems destroys soil fertility, microbial life and wider biodiversity. It poisons useful pollinators and natural processes to protect against diseases.
Farming is the biggest income earner among the majority of rural Zambians. One of the biggest challenges facing the sector is that farmers are being encouraged to use highly toxic chemicals by US-based profit-oriented agribusinesses to fight weeds, but environmentalists and other scientists have warned of grave consequences such as rapid land degradation.
“I feel betrayed by this weed killer, Round-Up. I was hoping this chemical will help to keep my farm healthy but instead it brought me problems. My life has changed negatively and farming using these harmful chemicals almost cost me my life,” Mr Kalima said.
“I’m tired of using these agro-chemical products from the US. From the time we started planting Dekalb Sunflower seed and using Round Up and glyphosate weed killer, my land has deteriorated and, sometimes the same weed killers also burnt my crops instead of just removing the weeds. This has not been good for biodiversity,” Mr Kalima added.
The Zambia Alliance for Agro-ecology and Biodiversity (ZAAB) conducted research in 2021 and found extensive use of some of the most highly hazardous chemcials, many of these are banned in their countries of manufacture, including the US itself.
The ZAAB National Coordinator Mutinta Nketani says these harmful chemicals were readily available in Zambia despite the long-term impacts on personal health and the environment.
A research published by Frontiers media states that the commercialisation of the agricultural sector has increased the chemical burden on natural ecosystems, pesticides are chemicals used in agricultural lands, public health programmes and urban green areas.
Zambian farmers have been made to adapt their agriculture practices to harmful agro-chemicals supplied by Bayer Crop Science and this has happened largely because the rural farmers are oblivious of the environmental consequences of the materials.
Mr Rodgers Mufwamba is also a peasant farmer in Chongwe who is grappling with challenges of soil erosion and rapid land degradation, which has destroyed the biodiversity because he has consistently used synthetic and hybrid seeds from Bayer Crop Science on his land.
An urgent strategic approach is needed for a reduction in the use of agrochemicals and for the implementation of sustainable agriculture practices.
There is need for more sustainable and safe methods of agro-production in Zambia. From the onset, it is apparent that the technologies and solutions from Bayer Crop Science is contributing to problems climate change and diminishing agro-production.