Agriculture Becoming a Threat for Environment

Beyond the debate on the importance of agriculture for Africa’s growth and economic transformation, as well as the place of small farms; agriculture’s place for Africa’s development is well established. However, the practice of agriculture, whether at the level of small farms or large agricultural industries, contains methods and practices that tend to be real threats to the environment. This is the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, growing methods etc. This is accentuated by agricultural policies seen through the prism of the economy, and the weak implementation of existing environmental protection policies that give reason to negative environmental impacts as narrated below.

       I.            The weak implementation of environmental protection measures in agriculture.

If agriculture is becoming a threat to  environment, it is due to the fact that it has been seen for African countries as the miracle solution to the problems of famine and undernourishment, beside which all other measures to make agriculture a sustainable activity are slow to take place. 

a.      Agriculture as a miracle solution to famine and undernourishment in Africa

After the great famine crisis of the 1900s facing African countries, the urgency was to find a “sustainable solution” to get out of the crisis quickly. This need for a solution in a short time and effectively has led African countries to focus on agricultural production and the development of means that can boost its growth without taking into account the various threats it could create if poorly framed. This is well see in the development of the Integrated Programme for the Development of Agriculture in Africa (PDDAA),created in june 2003 which  took into account only Two points: the high rates of economic growth predicted by NEPAD can only be achieved if agricultural production is significantly increased. Higher agricultural yields would help reduce hunger and lower the cost of food imports. It would also have broader economic benefits.

b.      The difficult implementation of environmental law related to agriculture domain.

 Environmental law is defined as the study or development of legal rules for understanding, protecting, using, managing or restoring the environment against ecological disturbance in all its forms. It is still considered by many legal professionals to be part of the “Soft Law” i.e. a non-binding right that merely makes recommendations.

Indeed, the Convention on long-range transboundary air pollution (CLRTAP) under the aegis of the United Nations signed on 17 November 1979 intended to provide a binding character in contrast to the other conventions that it had previously (the Declaration of Principles on the fight against air pollution, adopted by the Council of Europe on 8 March 1968, recommendations of the O.C.D.E. of 18 June 1974 and 14 November 1974 relating to sulphur oxide emissions and sulphur oxide emissions particles and various pollutants ) however, had no lasting effect as it allowed itself to be obscured by the expression “long distance” by allowing the sleight of hand to evade any responsibility of the polluter. A footnote accompanying Article 8 al.f of this convention on information exchange states that “this Convention does not contain a provision concerning the liability of States for damage”.

 In addition, The Rotterdam Convention, which opened for signatures on 10 September 1998, is an international convention initiated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). This convention, offers the possibility for a country to decide which dangerous chemicals or pesticides they are willing to receive and to refuse those they are unable to safely manage. However, this measure, which is an advanced measure for developed countries, is becoming a threat to Africa, which is in danger of becoming a spillway for pesticides banned from Europe.  The report on the use and effects of neonicotinoid insecticides on African agriculture, published on Tuesday 12 November 2019 by the network of African Academies of Sciences (Nasac) present relevant cases related to it. Beside, most Africa countries faced problem of insufficient resources to frame the implementation of environmental decisions. In The African Journal of Environmental Law (RADE) published in 2014 , Professor Maurice KAMTO pointed out two mains reasons :the scattering and lack of coordination of national institutions in charge of environmental issues, on the one hand, and the inadequacy of human and financial resources to effectively carry out the missions devolved to these institutions, on the other.

   II.             The negatives impacts of agricultural practice on environement

The adverse effects of agricultural practices as observed today in Africa are visible in the atmosphere, soil and water.

C At the level of air, soil and water.

To encourage plant growth and maximize harvests, farmers use nitrogen fertilizers en masse and apply heavy irrigation. The problem is that plants absorb only half of these fertilizers. The rest ends up in the atmosphere, soil and water, polluting our rivers and damaging aquatic biodiversity. Studies in the United Kingdom have estimated that between 50 and 60 kilograms of nitrogen are discharged per hectare per year! However, in recent years, numerous studies have shown that pollutants in the soil have a negative impact on the growth of vegetable crops by reducing their ability to capture and fix nitrogen, a process essential for good development and yield.

Also, ammonia by agricultural practices is a major cause of acid rain!  Yet, in both developed and developing countries, ammonia emissions from agriculture and livestock continue to rise. In a report entitled “the state of food security and nutrition in the world published by the FAO in 2017, concerning water pollution by agriculture, the figures are alarming:

– irrigation produces the largest amount of used water in the world (in the form of agricultural drainage); -from a global perspective, nearly 115 million tonnes of nitrogen mineral fertilizers are applied to crops each year. Nearly 20 per cent of these nitrogen inputs end up accumulating in soils and biomass, where 35 per cent of them enter the oceans; -worldwide, 4.6 million tonnes of chemical pesticides are sprayed into the environment each year; -developing countries account for 25 per cent of the world’s pesticide use in agriculture, but in these countries 99 per cent of pesticide deaths are recorded; -oxygen depletion (hypoxia), a human-caused phenomenon that is rooted in nutrient overabundance, affects an area equivalent to 240,000 km2 worldwide. This area consists of 70,000 km2 of inland water and 170,000 km2 of coastal areas; -worldwide, 24 per cent of irrigated areas would be affected by salinization

d The dangers of agricultural practices on burns and the informal supply of pesticides.

In its 2017 report, FAO shows that damage from slash-and-burn crops generates high air pollution, making agriculture responsible for nearly 35% of greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, the management of pesticide packaging used by farmers is a major source of pollution. A study conducted by Norbert Ngameni Tchamadeu et al on the theme: “Assessing the environmental risk factors associated with the misuse of pesticides by market gardeners in Cameroon: the case of Balessing in Western Cameroon” published on Afrique Science Webside in 2019, showed that 37 percent of the waste from pesticide packaging is incinerated causing air pollution as shown in table 1.

Table 1: Becoming of empty packages of pepticides.

In a study of one hundred and twenty (120) cotton producers in Benin by Soule Akinhola and al (2015). Under the theme “Farmers’ pesticide management practices on maize and cotton in the Benin cotton basin” published on the VERTIGO website ; have found that pesticides from the informal circuit are essentially those that are not allowed (94% for herbicides and 22% for insecticides). See table 2 below for details.

Table 2. The supply channels for listed pesticides / Sources of supply of pesticides.

Circuits Formel (%) Informel (%) Formel et informel (%) Total (%)
Autorisé 53,6 23,0 23,4 100,0
Herbicide         Non autorisé 3,1 93,9 3,1 100,0
Total 27,2 60,0 12,8 100,0
Autorisé 93,3 1,8 4,9 100,0
Insecticide Non autorisé 65,6 21,5 12,9 100,0
Total 83,2 9,0 7,8 100,0

In conclusion we can say that agricultural practice as practiced in the world constitute one of the main sources of environmental pollution. They finds its reasons in the laws non-binding and more or less favorable to a certain category of countries. The difficult implementation of measures for sustainable pesticide management and their use by African governments make agricultural activity a source of pollution for Africa. In addition to artisanal methods (farming on burn and artisanal manufacturing of pesticides and herbicides) and the proliferation of informal means to inquire  unauthorized pesticides and herbicides, increases the risk of pollution. Faced with this, Africa should in its vision to create sustainable agriculture, find a way to block the path to all the practices that today tend to transform agriculture into an environmental enemie

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