National | Opinion

Do you even care about where your food comes from?

The author, Gloria Agyare.

Picture this scenario: you took a bite of a juicy red tomato in your salad, only to uncover a disturbing truth—it contains Lambda-cyhalothrin, an insecticide chemical known for causing disruptions in the reproductive system, cancer, and even death. This image raises a critical question: do we truly care about where our food comes from?

The significance of the food we consume has become more critical than ever, shaped by how local farmers produce food crops and the profound impact these practices have on our lives, climate, and land. The use of agrochemicals like pesticides, insecticides and inorganic fertilisers has led to several health risks through dangerous residue on our crops and degraded soil health affecting the nutritional composition of food.

Recent findings from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP, 2022) disclose that about 385 million cases of pesticide poisoning occur yearly, leading to 11,000 deaths globally.

In 2003, Ghana saw a significant increase in the use of pesticides and insecticides including Lambda-cyhalothrin(mostly used by tomato farmers in Ghana) from 9% in 1991 to 47%. It has doubtless grown since then. The continuous use of these agrochemicals has been a major contributor to the recent rise in cases of food poisoning in Ghana.

In 2010, 15 people lost their lives in the Upper East region as a result of pesticide poisoning with 118 persons falling sick from food contaminated with pesticide. This serves as a reminder that the effects of modern agricultural production are not distant from the average Ghanaian.

Our way of producing food

Modern agriculture, with monocropping, synthetic fertilizers, and soil depletion, has caused a 38% drop in essential nutrients in popular vegetables since 1950. What does this mean for us? A nutrient deficiency gap is almost certain to exist in an ordinary Ghanaian's plate.

The constant application of synthetic fertilisers diminishes microbial activity and eradicates soil biodiversity, rendering the soil useless in the long term for cultivating crops. Moreover, the indiscriminate clearing of forests and natural habitats for food production disrupts biodiversity and compromises crucial natural processes like pollination.

When our environment is compromised, our health and lives are put at risk. For instance, agricultural runoffs emerge as significant pollutants in our water bodies and threaten aquatic life by conveying pesticides, herbicides, and soil nutrients, making them unsafe for consumption. Additionally, farming releases various pollutants into the air, including dust particles from ploughing and tilling.

The relationship between agricultural production and climate change cannot be underestimated. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the global food system is accountable for one-third of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, significantly contributing to climate change. This, in turn, disrupts food production patterns, leading to potential shortages and contributing to malnutrition and food insecurity.

As an environmentalist and advocate for sustainable agri-food systems, I have worked with eco-friendly practices like “agroecology” – sustainable farming that works with nature. My experience includes leading an agroforestry project in Ghana, where we successfully steer clear of inorganic chemicals and foster a harmonious relationship between farming and nature.

The urgency for sustainable practices is underscored by the alarming fact that about 140 million people in Africa face acute food insecurity, with at least one in five going to bed hungry.
While it is true that a full-scale shift to sustainable farming practices may pose short-term challenges in meeting immediate nutritional needs, we must weigh the long-term consequences of inaction. Inorganic fertilizers may promise increased crop yields and income for the short term, however, agroecological farmers emphasize sustained economic benefits, contributing to broader goals of sustainable and eco-conscious agriculture.

Consumers hold significant power in shaping the practices of food producers. It is imperative that we, as consumers, care deeply about what we eat and actively demand a shift towards food production methods rooted in sustainable farming practices.

In Ghana, the government has sought to fight food insecurity and create jobs with initiatives such as 'Planting for Food and Jobs.' However, the emphasis on modern agricultural practices through the distribution of subsidized agrochemicals must be re-evaluated. It's time to redesign Ghana's food system to focus on practices that prioritize environmental health, citizen well-being, and the delicate equilibrium of soil and biodiversity.

Consumers can help to speed this process by ‘raising their voices’ in the market. The next time you buy tomatoes for your salad, ask where and how they were grown. Your health and that of the planet – may depend on the answer.

Author note: Gloria Agyare is a young Ghanaian Environmentalist, Agri-food system advocate and fellow under Aspen Global Innovators Group and Niyel.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.