Chilean farmers learn to reduce pesticide use

Published on
October 31, 2013

Small farmers in Chile often spray more pesticides than necessary. This is not only harmful to the environment and human health, it also effects the farmers’ profits. The Centre of Expertise Wageningen UR Chile is going to provide training to small farmers to reduce their pesticides usage. " We show that ‘good agricultural practices’, with a focus on pesticide reduction, is in their own interest", says Marian Geluk, director of Wageningen UR Chile.

Effects of pesticide overuse

When maximum residue levels (MRLs) on fruit and vegetables are exceeded, supermarkets and food processing companies will not purchase these products. However, on local markets in Chile, where pesticide residue checks are not performed, these fruits and vegetables can still be sold – at lower prices. This means, firstly, that Chileans who buy vegetables on the market run the risk of purchasing products that contain high concentrations of pesticide residues. Secondly, the amount of money Chilean farmers spent on pesticides is higher than necessary while the market for their products is being reduced by excessive use of pesticides. Thirdly, pesticide overuse is an additional burden to the environment and in particular to the surface water. The same water that is also used for irrigation. Reason enough for the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture to request for tenders that focus on improving pest management. A tender that was won by Wageningen UR Chile.

Involving stakeholders in agricultural training

Wageningen UR Chile's agricultural training, promoting good agricultural practice, will particularly emphasize on the benefits for farmers. "That is where our programme differs from the many other agricultural training programmes in Chile", says the director, Marian Geluk. "To convey that message we also involve supermarkets, pesticide suppliers and the water board."

Alumni provide part of training

The biggest part of the trainings is provided by six Chilean consultants, three of whom studied at Wageningen University. "Those former students approached us during the alumni meeting in Santiago de Chile in May 2013, organised in honour of the 95th anniversary of Wageningen University," says Geluk. "They suggested that Chilean smallholder farmers should be taught according to the Wageningen principles. Via Skype and email contact with Wageningen UR researchers we then composed a proposal which we submitted to the Instituto de Desarrollo Agropecuario (INDAP), part of the Ministry of Agriculture. And much to our delight, we won that tender."

Wageningen UR trains the trainers

"Most of the 500,000 euro tender is spent in Chile", tells Geluk. "Only 40,000 euros will be going to Wageningen UR to train and support the consultants and to help set up the training programme. A small portion of the money is allocated to organisation and administration. The bulk of the money is used to pay the consultants’ salaries, hire venues, cover travel costs and so on." The goal is to give 400 farmers a thorough 18-month education in 'good agricultural practices'. Geluk says: "We train the forerunners, but their knowledge should also trickle down to others."

Wageningen UR Chile

It is the first project of Wageningen UR Chile that directly deals with smallholder farmers. The Centre of Excellence, which started in 2012 in Santiago de Chile under the leadership of Wageningen UR, normally focuses on technological research that helps to develop the food processing industry in the country." But this is a country where the primary production sector is much bigger than the food processing industry, which is still quite small here. Our main goal is to develop that industry, but it is also great – and important – to do agronomical work," according to Wageningen UR Chile’s director.