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Some 8,000 commercial potato growers in the province of Carchi in northern Ecuador account for about 40 per cent of Ecuador's potato production. These farmers are among the country's heaviest pesticide consumers, using backpacks — because of the hilly terrain — to apply the pesticides an average of seven times during the crop growth period.

These pesticides use up to 43 active ingredients, some of which are restricted in Canada and the United States. The farmers wear no special protective clothes, and mix pesticides with their hands or a stick. In addition, the pesticides are stored in the farmhouse, and there are inadequate waste and disposal facilities.

Health studies financed by a group of Western aid agencies have now documented how the potato farmers suffer from decreased mental capacity caused by high exposure to chemical insecticides. This is lowering their productivity by impairing their ability to make good farming decisions.

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Reference: IDRC Reports, 27 April 2001

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