Pesticide Use and Farm Worker Health in Ecuadorian Potato Production uri icon


  • Potatoes are a dietary staple in Ecuador as they have been for thousands of years. In 1992, about 50,000 hectares of potatoes were grown in Ecuador, mostly by small farmers. Almost all potato farmers in Ecuador rely on chemical fertilizers and pesticides to increase yields. Potato farmers are perceived as overusing pesticides, both in quantity and quality, with mixtures of chemicals, known locally as cocktails, being the favored form of application. As in many other countries, there is growing popular concern about the environmental and health impacts of agricultural chemical use. Residue testing on fresh vegetables in Ecuador found levels above those recommended by the FAO-WHO food safety guide, Codex Alimentarius. Human poisoning data were slowly accumulated during the 1980s after pesticide poisoning became a notifiable illness under the public health surveillance system. Focused surveys found widespread ignorance of the symptoms of pesticide poisoning and little use of personal protective equipment among farmers and farmworkers. With the widespread use of backpack sprayers (versus tractor or aerial application in developed countries), these groups are most likely to be at risk of excessive exposure.
  • The research results presented here are from a case study to assess impacts of pesticide use in potato production. This case study follows methodological guidelines laid out by Antle and Capalbo to quantify the interaction between production technology, environmental quality, and human health. Two adjacent watersheds totaling about 150 kilometers in Montufar Canton in Carchi Province in a cool moist highland zone in northern Ecuador served as the case study site. Potatoes are found between 2,400 and 3,500 meters altitude in a farming system based on potatoes and pasture for dairy cows, a typical arrangement for this type of agroecosystem. Information on crop production comes from data on individual fields from a sample of forty farmers, stratified by size of landholding. Farm pesticide practices come from interviews with this group and worker exposure monitoring from a sub-sample. Farm family members and nonpesticide exposed control subjects were added to the above sample for a set of clinical examinations and a survey of pesticide knowledge and attitudes. Finally, for pesticide poisonings, cases were drawn from the entire canton or county.

publication date

  • 1994
  • 1994