Pesticide use in Bangladesh

Pesticide use in Bangladesh has doubled since the early 1990s. In comparison to developed countries, pesticides in Bangladesh — which typically include organophosphate and carbamate insecticides — typically have higher toxicity. Many chemicals in widespread use — among them, the so-called “dirty dozen” — have been banned elsewhere in the world by international agreements because of known health impacts that include non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma, leukemia, lung cancer, aplastic anemia, fetal death, hormonal changes, DNA damage, birth defects and abnormal sperm, ovaries and eggs in humans.

In Bangladesh there is widespread evidence that pesticides are used inappropriately. In one survey of several hundred vegetable and fruit farmers, carried out in several remote districts in Bangladesh, 50% of pesticides were classed as “very hazardous” and 47% of farmers were found to be overusing them. In the same survey, only 4% of farmers reported receiving basic training on the safe handling of pesticides, and 87% openly admitted that they took no protective measures when mixing and handling pesticides.1  A survey by the World Bank found farmers usually sprayed their crops bare-footed (only 1% even wearing sandals), only 2% wore gloves, 3% wore protective eye-glasses, and 6% wore home-made cotton masks.2 Probably as a result of this widespread exposure, 26% reported experiencing multiple health effects, including headaches, eye and skin irritation, vomiting or dizziness.

Brinjal is a particularly pesticide-intensive crop due to its susceptibility to attack, in particular by the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB) insect larvae. Because manual pest control is difficult and prohibitively labor-intensive, brinjal farmers are more dependent on insecticides than those growing rice or other fruit and vegetable crops. The EFSB is particularly destructive because pest larvae bore into tender shoots and stunt plant growth. The insects also burrow inside fruits, making them unfit for human consumption.

Although brinjal-specific information regarding pesticide use is patchy at best, one survey in the vegetable basket southwest of Bangladesh found that every single farmer interviewed considered EFSB as the most damaging pest for brinjal. The farmers were also entirely dependent on insecticides to control EFSB: 98% reported that insecticides were their only effective method of control. Insecticide residues may be washed off by the rain, so, during the rainy season, a majority of farmers interviewed reported spraying their brinjal crop nearly every single day, adding up to 140 or more applications per season.3

Few farmers took protective measures: only 6% covered their faces to protect against inhalation, and 74% reported taking no safety measures at all. Accordingly, about half of brinjal farmers experienced sickness related to pesticide application, including vomiting, respiratory problems and skin or eye complaints.4 Farmers were not ignorant of the dangers, however — fully 75% knew that insecticides were harmful to themselves and others. This indicates that farmers use insecticides — despite negative effects — because the economic returns from brinjal cultivation are essential for their livelihoods, and they have no other options to protect their crop. 

In addition to the health and environmental dangers presented by pesticide use, insecticides are also the single highest input cost in brinjal farming. Replacing their use would bring substantial economic benefit to small farmers in Bangladesh. Past efforts have focused on using several “integrated pest management” (IPM) strategies but many of these tactics have met with limited success due to the complex and time-consuming nature of their approach. Host plant resistance to key pests is a foundation of IPM and Bt brinjal supplies that tool to the IPM “toolbox.” No other brinjal lines highly resistant to EFSB are available to growers. Organic production is almost entirely absent because of the all-pervasive nature of the EFSB and the lack of successful organic controls. Attempts to educate farmers to use pesticides more safely and effectively are important and should be part of an IPM program, as should Bt brinjal. 

  • 1. Dasgupta, S. et al, 2005: ‘Health Effects and Pesticide Perception as Determinants of Pesticide Use: Evidence from Bangladesh’, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3776, World Bank.
  • 2. Sumita Dasgupta & Craig Meisner, ‘Health Impacts of Pesticide Use: Evidence from Bangladesh’, PDF presentation, Development Research Group, World Bank.
  • 3. Rashid, M. A. et al, 2003: ‘Socio-economic Parameters of Eggplant Pest Control in Jessore District of Bangladesh’, AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center.
  • 4. Dasgupta, S. et al, 2005: ‘Health Effects and Pesticide Perception as Determinants of Pesticide. Use: Evidence from Bangladesh’, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3776, World Bank.