Good Food for Cities

Uncovering pesticide risks and ensuring healthy food in Denpasar

February 21, 2024
Gabriella Andries
Communication Coordinator

Despite the abundance of fresh vegetables in Denpasar, studies have raised concerns about potential health risks to consumers due to pesticide residues. To tackle this challenge, Rikolto has partnered with farmers, researchers, government agencies and consumer groups. This article explores the power of collaboration and research in building a healthier future where everyone can enjoy affordable, healthy and sustainable food.

Pesticide use on fresh vegetables in Denpasar

While the use of pesticides remains necessary in agriculture to maintain and increase production, monitoring of pesticide-derived compounds is rare. To address this, Rikolto partnered with the consumer organisation Yayasan Lembaga Konsumen Indonesia (YLKI) and the NGO, PIKAT to conduct laboratory testing for pesticide residues in fresh vegetables across Denpasar.

The findings were presented at a focus group discussion on 24 August. "Currently, the presence of pesticide-derived compounds is only considered when levels exceed 100 ng/L," explained Dr Ni Made Utami Dwipayanti, a researcher at PIKAT.

"We identified 17 pesticide-related traces, including active substances, co-formulants, and metabolites," Dr Dwipayanti continued. "These co-formulants may pose environmental and health risks, highlighting the need for more comprehensive monitoring.”

Dr. Ni Made Utami Dwipayanti, Researcher, PIKAT.

Determining the exact type of pesticide active ingredient proved difficult due to the lack of standard solutions in the Balinese laboratory. Nevertheless, the study showed that pesticides and their derivatives were present in a wide range of vegetables (broccoli, string beans, green mustard, tomatoes, and carrots) collected from different sources. Only 8 samples showed no evidence of pesticides or their derivatives. Tomatoes had the highest frequency, likely due to the wider range of pesticide applications used on them, while carrots had the highest variation and broccoli the lowest.

Laboratory testing of fresh vegetables from Denpasar for pesticide residues.

Increasing farmers' skills for a healthier future

The use of pesticides dates back to the Green Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, which aimed to increase food production through agricultural modernisation. While successful in boosting Indonesia's food productivity, it also led to biodiversity loss and soil degradation due to the heavy use of chemical inputs and industrial farming practices. This, in turn, created dependency among farmers and shaped their attitudes towards farming, including their reliance on pesticides and reluctance to adopt sustainable practices.

Raising awareness and improving farmers' understanding of the risks associated with pesticides and the benefits of organic farming is crucial to reducing the health risks of pesticide exposure and residues in fresh vegetables.

Rikolto's research found that farmers currently apply pesticides at varying intervals, with 80% spraying 3-7 days before harvest and the remaining 20% spraying only 1-2 days before.

Farmers learn how to produce organic fertiliser by using the natural resources of the environment around them.

Through its Good Food for Cities programme, Rikolto partners with farmers to enhance their capacity for sustainable production.

In Bali, we collaborate with Pasar Rakyat Bali to train farmers in practices that minimise reliance on chemical pesticides. This includes equipping them with the knowledge to produce organic fertilisers and pesticides using readily available natural resources. Farmer groups are also embracing the principles of the circular economy, which encourages the reuse and recycling of resources to reduce agricultural waste.

Rikolto has established demonstration plots where farmers can directly implement and observe how sustainable practices can increase their productivity. These practices benefit both farmers and the environment, ultimately contributing to healthier and safer food for consumers.

Empowering consumers to make healthy food choices

Pesticides are potentially toxic to humans and can have both acute and chronic health effects depending on the amount and method of exposure. Prolonged exposure to pesticide residues can lead to allergies, hypersensitivity, nervous system damage, reproductive disorders, cancer, and immune and endocrine disruption. Therefore, consumer understanding also plays a vital role in reducing risk. Washing vegetables with clean water and salt can reduce pesticide residues by 65-84%, with even greater reductions achieved through washing with hot water.

Rikolto's Good Food for Cities programme aims to create a deeper understanding and encourage healthy eating habits among consumers through initiatives such as healthy canteens in schools and urban farming projects.

Collaboration with local governments for safe and healthy vegetables

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

"Food safety guarantees that food will not cause harm to consumers when it is prepared and/or consumed in accordance with its intended use," Dr Sukadani explained. "The Department of Agriculture monitors the conditions and measures required throughout the food chain, from production and handling/processing to storage, distribution, and preparation."

Focus group discussion on strengthening the role of city government in monitoring the quality of fresh plant-based foods, held on 24 August 2023.

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

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

Nonie Kaban, "Good Food for Cities" South East Asia Regional Director at Rikolto,

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