Apr. 22, 2019
By Leonardo Gottems, reporter for AgroPages
AgroPages exclusively interviewed scientific researcher Hamilton Ramos, coordinator of the Reference Unit on Technology and Safety in the Application of Agrochemicals (UR). Ramos, who is an agronomist, talks about Brazilian advances in this field, as well as the new ISO standards approved in China, which are being applied in Brazil. Finally, he reviews how industries are participating in this process, and notes the future trends.
Can Brazilian agriculture exist without the use of agrochemicals?
It would be difficult because we have a climate that favors both agriculture and the development of pests, which makes the use of agrochemicals an important tool. Countries that harvest only once a year and have a strict winter may have less use for agrochemicals.
What is the purpose of the Reference Unit on Technology and Safety in the Application of Agrochemicals (UR)?
We work to ensure that quality information produced by research in different areas reaches farmers more quickly through the training of information multipliers, that is, those professionals in charge of training or bringing information to farmers about farms. If we think only of agribusiness workers, there are more than 2 million people to be served, which makes any project of direct action in the field very difficult. We have to multiply the knowledge, train consultants to teach farmers and rural workers in their areas of expertise. Given the current picture of Brazilian agriculture, the shortage of skilled labor in the application of agrochemicals will only be reduced to the extent that we create conditions for rural worker to learn improved agricultural practices. Nowadays, information multipliers are the key to reducing negative occurrences involving agrochemicals, products that are indispensable to agricultural productivity and to the competitiveness of rural producers. In summary, these are the central proposals of the Reference Unit.
Why is training of farmers in Brazil so essential?
Because technology evolves, and this evolution needs to be available to the farmer. Technology is not always new equipment or accessories, but also more suitable ways to use the sprayer he already has, for example. Often, especially on small properties, proper equipment regulations can lead to reductions in applied product volume exceeding 60% and reductions in worker exposure exceeding 90%. Despite this, in Brazil they continue to use techniques they have learned from family members or other farmers, believing that they are acting correctly, despite the costs that these practices transfer to the production, the environment and even the health of the workers.
What prevalent is the damage caused by the misuse of agrochemicals?
It is not easy to measure accurately, since there are several direct and indirect factors involved with the quality and effectiveness of the application. If we consider the control of soybean rust, for example, which is a disease occurring in the lower part of the plant, improper selection of the spray tip may cause most of the applied product to remain on the top of the plant, not arriving, therefore, to the central target region of the treatment. In this case, 100% of the product can reach the plant, but there will be damage to control and productivity. Thinking about how effective the product is that reaches the location where it should arrive, taking the losses by evaporation, drift, poor regulation of the sprayer etc., the losses can reach more than 60% and, often, they are between 20% and 30% of the product applied. If we consider the average movement of the market of defenses in the order of 10 billion dollars, then the losses tend to exceed 2 billion dollars.
What news did you bring from the ISO meeting in China?
Last March, in China, there was the annual meeting of ISO TC94 / SC13 Protective Clothing. Brazil, through CE32-006.03 - Committee for the Study of Gloves and Protective Clothing for Chemical Hazards of ABNT - Brazilian Association of Technical Norms, participated as an "observer" member of this collegiate, studying the projects and voting. In 2014, we became full members of the same committee, attending in person the activities and world meetings. The Center for Engineering and Automation of the Agronomic Institute (CEA / IAC) - an agency of the State of São Paulo's Secretariat of Agriculture and Supply - is the Brazilian representative in this commission.
The last meeting brought many innovations for which the work in Brazil was important, such as the approval of ISO 18889, which is a specific standard for the quality of gloves for workers in the application of pesticides. The technical basis for the development of this standard was all performed in the laboratories of the CEA / IAC, as well as the revision of others such as ISO 17491-4 - known as the "cabin test", which analyzes the quality of protective clothing in the worker's body - and ISO 22608, regarding the penetration capacity of chemicals in materials used in the manufacture of protective clothing. The proposed amendment of a herbicide liquid used in the dressing and glove tests for agrochemicals was also discussed and submitted for approval, on the other, nontoxic, also as a result of CEA / IAC laboratory tests. This substitution of one toxic product for another without toxicity will allow the adoption of ISO standards by a much larger number of countries, in addition to making work in certification laboratories safer. All these studies have the sole purpose of guaranteeing the quality of the protection equipment and the health of rural workers.
What is the 'Quepia' program, as it was adopted in Brazil?
The Quepia Program is the IAC Program for the Quality of Individual Protection Equipment in Agriculture. It has existed since 2006 and was created with the purpose of assisting the national EPI industry to improve the quality of equipment, in addition to making them conform to international quality standards.
Quepia also works on the evaluation and development of national and international standards in this area. Quepia today functions as a Voluntary Certification Program, in which the partner companies, whose clothing is tested and approved in tests carried out at CEA / IAC, earn the right to use the IAC Seal / Quality burner. Companies that have this seal entitle the CEA / IAC to seek out clothing to ensure that the quality of the clothing remains consistent with that which was initially found in technical trials.
Obviously, CEA / IAC does not have personnel to collect these garments in Brazil, as a whole, but users who are suspicious of the quality of the garments they are wearing, as long as they have the seal, can contact the CEA / IAC to perform the evaluations needed.
In addition to the assessments made to the member producers of Quepia, the laboratory of the program is certified by the Ministry of Labor for the issuance of quality reports, for the purpose of granting the Certificate of Approval (CA). Quepia is dedicated to the continuous development of the quality of clothing. Its laboratory is part of ISO's inter laboratory testing network and participates / co-ordinates with the "International Consortium for the Development and Evaluation of PPE for Pesticide Operators and Re-entry Workers", a consortium of 10 countries dedicated to developing PPE work with pesticides. In 2018, among more than 100 works presented at the European Conference on Protective Attire, held in Porto, Portugal, the works presented by Brazil received 2 of the 3 main awards provided by the Organizing Committee. ISO 18889, which is a specific glove quality standard for workers in the application of pesticides, was recently approved, at the annual meeting of ISO TC94 / SC13 Protective Clothing in China, and is expected to take effect in three to six months.
How are agrochemical companies supporting this initiative?
Agrochemical companies support this in different ways. Direct research activities, through ANDEF and, more recently, Sindiveg, using funds deposited at the Agricultural Research Support Foundation. Defensive companies are interested in having PPE among their sales items, but do not how to guarantee the quality of what is delivered by their suppliers. Therefore, by demanding the Seal Quepia from their suppliers, companies find the quality guarantee they need.
What standards and practices still need to be developed and implemented in Brazil?
Brazil is changing strides, and for the better, it is worth emphasizing. The evaluation of the risk analysis by ANVISA, in which the scenario in which the product will be applied, is being considered in the recommendation of risk control measures and presents a significant evolution. The new legislation on protective clothing, already adopted by the Ministry of Labor, which provides for the indication of equipment with different degrees of protection, according to the needs of the worker, also considers the thermal comfort and the way in which protective equipment should be recommended in the labels and package leaflets of products, and is another advance obtained jointly by Anvisa and the Ministry of Labor. The foundation of the Prohuma Institute for Scientific Studies, with the resources of national and multinational defensive companies, study Brazilian application scenarios and develop occupational exposure studies, which is another relevant example of several good initiatives undertaken in recent years in Brazil. We can affirm that, today, Brazil is a model, a reference for several countries in the world regarding the valorisation and promotion of safety in the application of agrochemicals.