Examining and understanding the role of social inequalities in pesticide poisoning within smallholder cotton farming systems

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: Blizard Institute of Cell and Molecular


Cotton is particularly vulnerable to pest attacks. Globally, this
crop covers just 2.4% of the world's cultivated land but uses
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6% of the world's pesticides, more than any other single
major crop [1]. Thousands of cotton farmers and their
families are exposed to pesticides on a daily basis and suffer
from pesticide poisoning, a major global killer every year [2].
Nearly 1,000 people die every day from acute pesticide
poisoning and many more suffer from chronic ill health, such
as cancers like leukaemia, neurological diseases and
reproductive problems including infertility, miscarriage and
birth defects [3].
In Tanzania, there are around half a million smallholder
cotton farmers, and approximately 40% of the entire country
population depends on their yields [4]. Pesticides are widely
used by cotton farmers in the country, with very limited
awareness about the need of use of protective clothing and
poor storage practices [5]. It is however, difficult to estimate
the burden of pesticide poisoning, mainly due to
underreporting [6].
Scattered evidence suggests that younger people, women,
and ethnic minorities might be disproportionally affected by
pesticide exposure [7,8] and education level may be
associated with pesticide poisoning [9]; however, there is no
data on social inequalities and environmental injustice
associated to pesticide poisoning in cotton farmers and
families in Tanzania.
Evidence shows that successful alternatives to conventional
pesticides exist by replacing chemicals with biology using
ecosystem-based approaches to pest and crop
management (agro-ecology) [10]. Due to the lack of large
scale, rigorous surveillance data and understanding of social
barriers, there is reluctance amongst farmers and policy
makers to adopt these safer and sustainable alternatives
The proposed research endeavours to address this
fundamental gap utilising the large dataset, generated
through the use of a digital app providing a standardised
data collection system. This dataset will enable the analysis
of the role of social inequalities in pesticide poisoning
amongst smallholder cotton farming systems. This will be
coupled with an analysis of the barriers the farmers
encounter to switch to more sustainable cotton production,
that can protect the livelihoods, health and environment of
millions of rural families. Finally, a stakeholder analysis will
investigate the cost versus benefit attitudes of policy makers
and relevant stakeholders on the decision-making process of
supporting agro-ecology within the country.
To unfold this complex issue, an 'ecohealth' framework, an
ecosystem approach to the examination of the
environmental, and socioeconomic factors in relation to
health will be employed using its principles of
interdisciplinarity, multi-stakeholder participation system
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analysis and gender and social equity [12].


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2320524 Studentship ES/P000703/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2023 Vidhya Sasitharan