Uncovering pesticide risks and ensuring healthy food in Denpasar

Uncovering pesticide risks and ensuring healthy food in Denpasar

Gabriella Cynthia Andries
Gabriella Cynthia Andries
Communication Coordinator

Among the issues facing the city of Denpasar, one concern resonates across the globe: ensuring access to affordable, nutritious, and healthy food. The journey to nutritious and healthy food begins with how raw food is cultivated and treated. Organic farming offers an appealing alternative; however, synthetic pesticides are still the mainstream practice among Indonesian farmers. Pesticides adversely affect farmers, consumers, and the environment.

To address this concern, Rikolto partnered with Yayasan Lembaga Konsumen Indonesia (YLKI) and PIKAT to conduct pesticide residue lab tests on fresh vegetables in Denpasar. This collaboration aimed to conduct comprehensive pesticide residue laboratory tests on fresh vegetables sourced from Denpasar, providing valuable insights into the safety and quality of the vegetables in the city.

Pesticide use on fresh vegetables in Denpasar

The use of pesticides in the agricultural process is required to maintain and increase production. However, monitoring pesticide-derived compounds, which can persist and spread easily in the environment, is very uncommon. Ni Made Utami, a researcher at PIKAT, shared her findings in a focus group discussion in Denpasar on 24 August 2023.

"Currently, pesticide-derived compounds will only be considered for their presence if they exceed 100 ng/L. Some of the reasons for not monitoring the content of pesticide-derived compounds in the environment are due to the lack of references related to these materials, inappropriate analytical methods, and unknown compounds included in pesticide derivatives."

We identified 17 pesticide-related compounds, including active ingredients, co-formulants, and metabolites. These co-formulants can pose environmental and health risks, emphasising the need for comprehensive monitoring.

Ni Made Utami Dwipayanti Researcher at PIKAT

Determining the exact type of pesticide active ingredient proved challenging due to the absence of standard solutions in Bali's laboratory. Nevertheless, the study revealed the presence of pesticide compounds and their derivatives in various vegetables. Tomatoes exhibited the highest frequency, likely due to the diverse pesticide use, while carrots displayed the highest variation of pesticides, and broccoli had the least variation.

Raising farmers' capacities for sustainable farming and consumer awareness of healthy food

The use of pesticides resulted from the Green Revolution that began in the 1950s and 1960s, which aimed to boost food production by modernising agriculture. Despite its success in improving food productivity in Indonesia, this led to biodiversity loss and soil degradation caused by the heavy use of chemical inputs and industrialised farming. It also created dependency among farmers and shaped their mindset toward farming, including pesticide usage and their hesitance to transition to sustainable agricultural practices.

Raising awareness and improving farmers' behaviour regarding pesticide risks and organic farming is essential to reduce the health risks of pesticide exposure and residues in fresh vegetables. We found that farmers currently apply pesticides at varying intervals, with 80% spraying 3 to 7 days before harvest and the remaining 20% just 1 to 2 days prior.

Through our Good Food for Cities program, Rikolto works closely with farmers to build their capacity for sustainable production. In Bali, Rikolto collaborates with Pasar Rakyat Bali to train farmers on sustainable farming methods that reduce the need for chemical pesticides. For example, Rikolto equipped farmers in Bali with the knowledge to make organic fertiliser and pesticides by utilising natural resources from their surroundings. Farmer groups are also integrating the circular economy concept, in which they reuse or recirculate resources to minimise agricultural waste. Rikolto also established demonstration plots where farmers can directly implement and witness how sustainable methods can increase their productivity. These practices benefit farmers and the environment and contribute to healthier, safer consumer food.

Pesticides are potentially toxic to humans and can have both acute and chronic health effects, depending on the quantity and ways in which a person is exposed.[1] Prolonged exposure to pesticide residues can lead to allergies and hypersensitivity, damage nervous systems, reproductive disorders, cancer, and disruptions of the immune and endocrine systems.[2] Therefore, consumer understanding also plays a vital role in mitigating the risk. Washing vegetables with clean and salt water (NaCl)[3] can reduce pesticide residue levels by 65% to 84%, with even more significant reductions through hot water washing. At Rikolto, one of the main activities in our Good Food for Cities programme is aimed at creating a deeper understanding and habits toward nutritious food for consumers, such as through our healthy canteen in schools and urban farming initiatives.

Collaborating with local governments for safe and healthy vegetables

Local governments play a crucial role in ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food. They are responsible for monitoring food quality, regulating fertilisers, and granting permits for quality fertilisers, all of which impact crop yields. Dr. Ir. Ni Luh Sukadani, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Food Security of Bali Province, further emphasises the importance of these measures.

Food safety guarantees that food will not harm consumers when prepared and or eaten according to its intended use. We, the Department of Agriculture, supervise the conditions and measures required during the production - handling/processing - storage - distribution and food preparation.

Dr. Ir. Ni Luh Sukadani Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Food Security of Bali Province

From this focus group discussion conducted on 24 August 2023, Bali's Agriculture and Food Security Office has initiated surveillance and support for healthy food before distributing it to the public. Rikolto's Good Food for Cities programme continues to build bridges between key stakeholders for a resilient food system and ensuring that safe and nutritious food is within everyone's reach.

Want to learn more or collaborate with us? Contact our colleague!

Nonie Kaban
Nonie Kaban
Good Food for Cities Southeast Asia Regional Director