Climate Change, Pesticides and Health: Considering the Risks and Opportunities of Adaptation for Zimbabwean Smallholder Cotton Growers

Journal Article


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International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

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There is potential for increased pesticide-related adverse health outcomes in the agricultural sector linked to adaptive increases in pesticide use necessitated, in part, by climate change-related increases in pest populations. To understand the role of adaptation practices in pesticide use and health risks, this study assessed Zimbabwean smallholder cotton farmers’ adaptive responses linked to their climate change perceptions. In depth interviews were conducted with 50 farmers who had been growing cotton for at least 30 years. The study identified farmers’ adaptation practices that increased their pesticide use, as well as those that presented opportunities for reducing pesticide use through non-pesticide-dependent adaptation pathways. The findings show that due to perceived climate change impacts, such as a shorter growing season, farmers were adopting a range of adaptive practices. These included changes in pest management practices, such as increasing pesticide spraying frequencies due to keeping ratoon crops, which were increasing farmers’ overall pesticide use. Such incremental adaptive practices are potentially maladaptive, as they may increase farmers’ pesticiderelated health risks. Other practices, however, such as reducing cotton acreage and diversifying crops, resulting in transformational adaptation, suggest the existence of opportunities for decreasing overall pesticide use or totally eliminating pesticides from the farming system