"If we don’t use pesticides we lose the crop".

Quote and photo from the field. By ESR Miriam Waltz.


All ESR's are on fieldwork in various parts of Africa in 2019. As part of the dissemination they will be sending a photo and a quote from the field while they are away.   


This photo and quote from the field comes from ESR Miriam Waltz who is doing her fieldwork in Kenya on pesticide use and emerging cancer epidemicsRead more about her research here

It was about 8 in the morning of my first day of fieldwork in a small village in the western part of Kenya, and Melvin led me to the back of his shamba. There was a yellow jerrycan with the top cut off with a milky white substance in it, almost full. This was the pesticide he bought the day before. He added the liquid to a small hand pump, spraying the knee-high maize plants from the top, right above the plant, so the liquid trickled into the leaves. He wore thin transparent rubber gloves and a simple face mask, but he didn’t wear this continuously - most of the time it was around his neck, especially during mixing, and he was also barefoot. When he put the mask back on after mixing, before spraying, he adjusted it very carefully, avoiding to touch his face with his gloved and dripping hands. ‘You know this is a chemical, we don’t work direct.’ I became gradually aware of the strong, harsh smell that was spreading. ‘Do you have your camera?’ Melvin invited me to take pictures. I asked if I could photograph him while refilling the pump – ‘just take.’ He quickly put on his mask, ‘or people will say: why is this African not protecting himself?’


Like the rest of the small-scale farmers and farmworkers I spoke with during my research this year, Melvin was facing an infestation of Fall Army Worm (FAW) in his maize field, amplified by an ongoing drought. In his case, he turned to an agrochemical or pesticide that was widely available and used in the area. As his last comment suggests, Melvin was acutely aware of the stereotype that many farmers would mention to me, of the ‘ignorant’ peasant farmer exposing themselves to dangerous chemicals. But many farmers I spoke to felt the FAW left them no choice but to spray. Melvin told me: ‘When you don’t spray you don’t get any yield. You find your field is destroyed.’. Or as his neighbor Deborah put it: ‘If we don’t use pesticides, we lose the crop.’