64. Agriculture and Natural Resources Based Industries
Chapter Editor: Melvin L. Myers
Melvin L. Myers
Case Study: Family Farms
Ted Scharf, David E. Baker and Joyce Salg
Melvin L. Myers and I.T. Cabrera
Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers
Marc B. Schenker
Melvin L. Myers
Greenhouse and Nursery Operations
Mark M. Methner and John A. Miles
Samuel H. Henao
Farmworker Education about Pesticides: A Case Study
Planting and Growing Operations
Yuri Kundiev and V.I. Chernyuk
William E. Field
Storing and Transportation Operations
Thomas L. Bean
Manual Operations in Farming
Pranab Kumar Nag
Case Study: Agricultural Machinery
L. W. Knapp, Jr.
Agricultural Grains and Oilseeds
Sugar Cane Cultivation and Processing
R.A. Munoz, E.A. Suchman, J.M. Baztarrica and Carol J. Lehtola
Vegetables and Melons
B.H. Xu and Toshio Matsushita
Berries and Grapes
William E. Steinke
Melvin L. Myers
Tropical Tree and Palm Crops
Melvin L. Myers
Bark and Sap Production
Melvin L. Myers
Bamboo and Cane
Melvin L. Myers and Y.C. Ko
Gerald F. Peedin
Ginseng, Mint and Other Herbs
Larry J. Chapman
L.J.L.D. Van Griensven
Melvin L. Myers and J.W.G. Lund
Jorge da Rocha Gomes and Bernardo Bedrikow
Thomas Karsky and William B. Symons
Health Problems and Disease Patterns in Agriculture
Melvin L. Myers
Case Study: Agromedicine
Stanley H. Schuman and Jere A. Brittain
Environmental and Public Health Issues in Agriculture
Melvin L. Myers
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1. Sources of nutrients
2. Ten steps for a plantation work risk survey
3. Farming systems in urban areas
4. Safety advice for lawn & garden equipment
5. Categorization of farm activities
6. Common tractor hazards & how they occur
7. Common machinery hazards & where they occur
8. Safety precautions
9. Tropical & subtropical trees, fruits & palms
10. Palm products
11. Bark & sap products & uses
12. Respiratory hazards
13. Dermatological hazards
14. Toxic & neoplastic hazards
15. Injury hazards
16. Lost time injuries, United States, 1993
17. Mechanical & thermal stress hazards
18. Behavioural hazards
19. Comparison of two agromedicine programmes
20. Genetically engineered crops
21. Illicit drug cultivation, 1987, 1991 & 1995
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It is thought that the word coffee derives from Kaffa, a village in Ethiopia where the plant is thought to have its origin. Some, however, consider that the word stems from qahwa, meaning wine in Arabic. Coffee cultivation spread the world over, starting in Arabia (one species is called Coffea arabica, and a variety is Moka, named after an Arab village), passing through many countries, such as Ceylon, Java, India, the Philippines, Hawaii and Viet Nam, among others, some of which are important producers to this day. In America, coffee was introduced from plants previously adapted to the climate in Amsterdam and Paris, planted in Martinique, Surinam and French Guyana, from where it was brought to Brazil, the largest producing country in the world.
Figure 1. World coffee production for 1995 - 96
The trend towards a global economy, growing competition and the search for technologies with higher productivity also have effects upon coffee cultivation. Mechanization is being disseminated and updated. Moreover, new methods of cultivation are introduced, among them high-density cultivation, in which the distance between plants is being reduced. This modern method increases the number of coffee trees from 3,000 or 4,000 to 100,000 plants per hectare, with an increase in productivity of around 50% over the traditional method. This procedure is important for workers’ health, since lower risks are involved and less herbicide is applied, especially after the third year. On the other hand, there is an increase in the frequency of tree cutting and higher demand for control of fungus disease in the plants.
Coffee is highly sensitive to fluctuations in international commerce; many countries tend to replace coffee with other crops in which financial return is more predictable. In Brazil, for instance, coffee represented 68% of the total volume of exports in 1920; in the 1990s it is only 4%. Coffee is being replaced by soy bean, citric fruits, corn, latex and especially sugar cane.
It is extremely difficult to obtain a reliable estimate of the total labour force involved in coffee cultivation because the number of employed workers is quite variable. During harvest, a large number of seasonal workers are hired, to be dismissed soon after the crop is over. Moreover, in small properties, very often workers are not legally registered, and therefore are not shown in official reports. In Brazil in 1993, for a production of 28.5 million coffee bags, the number of workers was estimated at 1.1 million in direct and 4 to 5 million in indirect jobs. If the same parameters are applied to world production for the same year, coffee workers around the world could be estimated at approximately 3.6 million.
It is equally difficult to know the average figure of workers per rural property. In general, small or medium-sized properties are predominant. The sex and age distribution of the working population is equally unknown, even though female population among workers is increasing and children are known to be employed in coffee plantations. Figures for unionized workers vary according to the labour policies in each country, but they are known to be generally scarce.
Coffee cultivation and treatment involve the following steps: tree abatement; soil preparation; planting (small plants are usually grown in nurseries in the same or in external properties); treatment (soil correction, fertilizing, pest control and terrain cleaning manually or with herbicides); fruit picking (ripe fruit is usually red and therefore called a berry—see figure 2; sieving to get rid of impurities; transportation; washing to remove pulp and membranes; sun drying, revolving grains with a rake, or mechanical drying through hot air blasting; hand separation of grains; storing in silos; and bagging.
Figure 2. High-density coffee cultivation showing berries
Risk factors that may affect workers’ health in coffee cultivation are the same as for agricultural workers in general.
From tree abatement and terrain preparation to the final storage of coffee bags, each step may involve several risk factors for workers’ health and safety. Injury risks are present mainly in mechanized processes, tree abatement, terrain preparation, mechanical picking, transportation of coffee and workers as well, fruit treatment (including the risk of boiler explosion) and use of hand tools (very often improvised or without maintenance).
Potential risks of occupational diseases due to physical conditions are related to heat exposure in drying operations, solar radiation, machine noise, ergonomic problems from hand tools, vibration from machinery and tractors, and cold and humidity from outdoor exposure.
The main chemical agents present as potential risks for workers’ health are pesticides and herbicides. Those most often used are gliphosate as an herbicide, copper salts as fungicides and organophosphorus compounds for other pests commonly found on coffee trees. The number of pesticide applications varies according to tree age, soil composition, climatic conditions, vegetation species or variety, cultivation system (e.g., high or low density) and other factors. Spraying is usually done individually with backpack equipment, or from tractors. Large amounts are usually required, and it is said that “without spraying no crop is available”.
Chemical fertilizers may also present a health risk. Often used are compounds derived from boron, zinc, nitrogen, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulphur. The release of particles from fertilizer handling should be kept under control.
Biological agents may represent important risks for workers’ health. They may include, for instance, bites or stings from snakes, spiders, bees, mosquitoes and acarids, some of them important as disease vectors. In certain areas, endemic diseases may be serious risks for coffee workers.
Ergonomic, psychosocial and organizational factors are discussed below.
Examples of injuries related to work are cuts from hand tools, sprains and fractures from machines and injuries from tractors. Fatal injuries, even if unusual, have occurred as a result of overturning of tractors or inadequate vehicles used in transportation of workers. When artificial drying is employed, heat sources may cause burns and explosions.
Occupational diseases may result from exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation; cutaneous conditions may range from a simple erythema to skin cancer. Hearing loss among machine operators, pulmonary allergic conditions, poisoning from herbicides and pesticides, callosities, lung diseases, bone and circulatory conditions due to vibration, and muscular and skeletal trouble due to poor ergonomic positions or excessive weight (one coffee bag can weigh 60 kg) are other occupational conditions that may occur among coffee cultivation workers. Although primarily a problem among workers processing coffee beans, green bean handlers have complained of respiratory and eye problems. Coffee bean dust has been associated with occupational dust diseases.
Tropical diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, filariasis, trypanossomiasis, leishmaniasis and onchocercosis are prevalent in certain cultivating areas. Tetanus is still prevalent in many rural areas.
More complex health problems related to psychosocial and organizational factors may also affect coffee workers. Since large numbers of workers are required during harvest, and very few during the rest of the year, seasonal contracts are usually practised, often resulting in difficult health problems.
In many cases, workers leave their families and remain during the harvest season in precarious lodgings under inadequate sanitary conditions. If the planting area is close to town, the farmer will contract only one man in the family. However, to increase the profit, the worker himself may bring his whole family to help, including women and children. In some areas, the number of children at work is so high that schools will be closed during the whole harvest season.
In this type of seasonal activity, workers will turn from one type of cultivation to another, according to each harvest period. Since men leave their families, women are called “widows with living husbands”. Very often, a man will raise another family, away from his original town.
Proper compliance with labour legislation and social security is usually restricted to large plantations, and labour inspection in rural areas is generally ineffective. Health care is usually very limited. Duration of work is extended to many hours daily; weekends and normal vacations are seldom respected.
These psychosocial and organizational factors result in marked deterioration in workers’ health, manifested through early ageing, low life expectancy, increase in prevalence and longer duration of diseases, malnutrition (eating the food taken to the field in cans without heating it has led to workers being given a nickname—boias frias in Portuguese), anaemia and hypovitaminoses leading to loss of disposition to work, mental trouble and other manifestations.
Preventive measures concerning coffee are the same that apply to rural work in general. Collective protection includes machine guarding, care in application of pesticides and herbicides, mechanizing operations that require undue effort and energy consumption, and adequate transportation of workers. In high-density plantations, regular cutting will not allow the trees to grow, which will eliminate the use of dangerous and uncomfortable ladders for hand picking. When drying requires the use of boilers, careful periodic preventive maintenance is of utmost importance. Biological pest control and proper selection of species resistant to plagues are important preventive measures concerning pesticides, avoiding workers’ disease and environmental protection as well.
Implementation of the use of recommended PPE is difficult because such equipment is usually not adapted to climatic conditions or to the biotype of workers. Moreover, there is usually no educational orientation to facilitate the use, and the selection of equipment is not always correct. Equipment in general use is restricted to boots, hats and clothing to protect from the weather, even though hand, lung, eye and ear protection may be required.
Prevention to control psychosocial and organizational factors may bring up many difficulties. Workers’ awareness should be raised through educational activities, especially in unions and other workers’ organizations, increasing perceptions about workers’ rights to better living and working conditions; moreover, employers should develop their perceptions concerning their social responsibilities towards the labour force. The State should exercise an effective and constant orientation and enforcement wherever legal action is required. Some countries have developed rules and regulations specifically applicable to rural workers. In Brazil, for example, Rural Regulatory Standards establish general directives concerning safety in rural activities, the organization of occupational health services and safety committees in plantations, use of personal protective equipment and handling of chemicals (pesticides, fertilizers and soil-correcting products).
Health control through occupational medicine should cover the evaluation of health effects due to exposure to pesticides, ultraviolet radiation, excessive noise and many other hazards. It may, in many circumstances, be more necessary to control worm diseases, anaemia, hypertension, behavioural problems, eye defects and similar problems, due to their high prevalence in rural areas. Health education should be stressed, as well as tetanus immunization, including for pregnant workers to prevent neonatal tetanus. In some regions, immunization against yellow fever is necessary. Chemoprophylaxis is recommended in areas where malaria is endemic, together with the use of repellents and a preventive orientation against mosquitoes, until sanitation is adequate to control or suppress vectors of the aetiological agent. Serum against snake poison should be available.
Acknowledgement: The authors are obliged to the cooperation received from Professor Nelson Batista Martin, from the Institute of Rural Economy, State Secretary of Agriculture, Sao Paulo; Andre Nasser and Ricardo Luiz Zucas, from the Brazilian Rural Society; and Monica Levy Costa, from the School Health Center, School of Public Health, Sao Paulo University.
The family farm is an enterprise and a homestead on which both children and the elderly are likely to be present. In some parts of the world, farm families live in villages surrounded by their farm land. The family farm combines family relationships and child raising with the production of food and other raw materials. Family farms range from small, subsistence or part-time operations worked with draught animals and hand tools to very large, family-held corporations with numerous full-time employees. Types of family farms are distinguished by national, regional, cultural, historical, economic, religious and several other factors. The size and type of operations determine the demand for labour from family members and the need for hired full- or part-time workers. A typical farm operation may combine the tasks of livestock handling, manure disposal, grain storage, heavy equipment operation, pesticide application, machinery maintenance, construction and many other jobs.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD 1994) reports several trends in agriculture, including:
The concentration of farm operations and the reduction in the number of family farms has been recognized for decades. These economic forces affect the work processes, workload and safety and health of the family farm. Several key changes are occurring in family farming as a direct result of these economic forces, including expanding workloads, increasing reliance on hired labor, use of new techniques, unsupervised adolescents and struggling to maintain economic viability.
Children nearing adolescence contribute to family farm productivity. Small and medium-size family farms are likely to rely on this labor, especially when adult family members work off the farm. The result may be unsupervised work by farm children.
The family farm is a hazardous work environment. It is one of few hazardous workplaces where multiple generations of family members may live, work and play. A farm can be the source of many and differing life-threatening hazards. The most important indicator for safety and health is workload per worker—both physical labor and decision-making or mental workload. Many serious injuries happen to experienced farmers, working with familiar equipment in familiar fields, while doing tasks that they have been performing for years and even decades.
Hazardous agricultural materials including pesticides, fertilizers, flammable liquids, solvents and other cleaners are responsible for acute and chronic illnesses in farm workers and family members. Tractors, augers and other mechanized equipment have permitted a dramatic increase in the land and livestock that can be worked by a single farmer, but mechanization has contributed to severe injuries in agriculture. Machinery entanglement or tractor rollover, livestock, operating equipment on public roads, falling or being struck by falling objects, material handling, confined spaces and exposures to toxins, dust, moulds, gases, chemicals, vibration and noise are among the principal risks for illness and injury on farms. Climate and topography (e.g., weather, water, slopes, sinkholes and other obstacles) also contribute to the hazards.
Overall, agricultural occupations produce some of the highest rates of death and injury of all types of jobs. Unfortunately, farm children are at great risk along with their parents. As farm families attempt to remain profitable as they expand, family members may take on too high a workload and place themselves at greatly increased risk of fatigue, stress and injury. It is under these conditions that farm children are most likely to try to help out, often working unsupervised. In addition, unrelenting stressors associated with farming may lead to depression, family breakup and suicide. For example, principal owner-operators on single-family farms appear to be at particularly high risk for suicide when compared to other rural residents (Gunderson 1995). Further, the costs of illnesses and injuries are most often borne by the family member(s), and by the family enterprise—both as direct medical costs and in the reduction of labour necessary to maintain the operation.
Classic agricultural safety and health programmes emphasize improved engineering design, education and good practices. Special attention on these farms needs to be placed on age-appropriate tasks for children and older adults. Young children should neither be allowed near operating farm equipment nor ever ride on tractors and other farm equipment. They should also be excluded from farmstead buildings that present hazards including electricity, confined spaces, chemical storage areas and operating equipment (National Committee for Childhood Agricultural Injury Prevention 1996). Warning labels should be maintained on equipment and chemicals so adults are informed of hazards and can thus better protect their families. The availability of experienced part-time or full-time workers reduces the burden on the family during periods of high workloads. The abilities of older adults should be a factor in the tasks that they perform.
Self-reliant farmers, determined to complete tasks regardless of the risks, may ignore safe work practices if they perceive them to interfere with farm productivity. Improving safety and health on family farms requires engaging the active participation of farmers and farm workers; improving attitudes, behavioral intentions and work practices; recognizing farm economics and productivity as powerful determinants in shaping the structure and organization of the enterprise; and including agricultural specialists, equipment dealers, insurance agents, bankers, local media, youth and other community members in generating and sustaining a broad climate of farm and community safety.
Twelve millennia ago, humankind moved into the Neolithic era and discovered that food, feed and fibre could be produced from the cultivation of plants. This discovery has led to the food and fibre supply that feeds and clothes more than 5 billion people today.
This general profile of the agricultural industry includes its evolution and structure, economic importance of different crop commodities and characteristics of the industry and workforce. Agricultural workforce systems involve three types of major activities:
The agriculture system is shown as four major processes. These processes represent sequential phases in crop production. The agricultural system produces food, feed and fibre as well as consequences for occupational health and, more generally, public health and the environment.
Major commodities, such as wheat or sugar, are outputs from agriculture that are used as food, animal feed or fibre. They are represented in this chapter by a series of articles that address processes, occupational hazards and preventive actions specific to each commodity sector. Animal feed and forage are discussed in the chapter Livestock rearing.
Evolution and Structure of the Industry
The Neolithic revolution—the change from hunting and gathering to farming—started in three different places in the world. One was west and southwest of the Caspian Sea, another was in Central America and a third was in Thailand near the Burmese border. Agriculture started in about 9750 BC at the latter location, where seeds of peas, beans, cucumbers and water chestnuts have been found. This was 2,000 years before true agriculture was discovered in the other two regions. The essence of the Neolithic revolution and, thus, agriculture is the harvesting of plant seeds, their reintroduction into the soil and cultivation for another harvest.
In the lower Caspian area, wheat was the early crop of choice. As farmers migrated, taking wheat seed with them, the weeds in other regions were discovered to also be edible. These included rye and oats. In Central America, where maize and beans were the staples, the tomato weed was found to bear nutritious food.
Agriculture brought with it several problems:
Solutions to these problems have led to new industries. Ways to control weeds, insects and rodents evolved into the pesticide industry, and the need to replenish the soil has resulted in the fertilizer industry. The need to provide water for irrigation has spawned systems of reservoirs and networks of pipes, canals and ditches.
Agriculture in the developing nations consists principally of family-owned plots. Many of these plots have been handed down from generation to generation. Peasants make up half of the world’s rural poor, but they produce four-fifths of the developing countries’ food supply. In contrast, farms are increasing in size in the developed countries, turning agriculture into large-scale commercial operations, where production is integrated with processing, marketing and distribution in an agribusiness system (Loftas 1995).
Agriculture has provided subsistence for farmers and their families for centuries, and it has recently changed into a system of production agriculture. A series of “revolutions” has contributed to an increase in agricultural production. The first of these was the mechanization of agriculture, whereby machines in the fields substituted for manual labour. The second was the chemical revolution that, after the Second World War, contributed to the control of pests in agriculture, but with environmental consequences. A third was the green revolution, which contributed to North American and Asian productivity growth through genetic advances in the new varieties of crops.
The human population has grown from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 5.6 billion in 1994, and the United Nations estimates that it will continue to grow to 7.9 billion by 2025. The continued rise in the human population will increase the demand for food energy and nutrients, both because of the increase in numbers of people and the global drive to combat malnutrition (Brown, Lenssen and Kane 1995). A list of nutrients derived from food is shown in table 1.
Table 1. Sources of nutrients
Carbohydrates (sugars and starch)
Fruits, cereals, root vegetables, pulses
Oilseeds, nuts, and legumes
Meat, poultry, butter, ghee, fish
Pulses, nuts, and cereals
Meat, fish, dairy products
Carotenes: carrots, mangoes, papaya
Vitamin A: liver, eggs, milk
Calcium: peas, beans
Calcium: milk, meat, cheese
Source: Loftas 1995.
Agriculture today can be understood as an enterprise to provide subsistence for those doing the work, staples for the community in which the food is grown and income from the sale of commodities to an external market. A staple food is one that supplies a major part of energy and nutrient needs and constitutes a dominant part of the diet. Excluding animal products, most people live off of one or two of the following staples: rice, wheat, maize (corn), millet, sorghum, and roots and tubers (potatoes, cassava, yams and taro). Although there are 50,000 edible plant species in the world, only 15 provide 90% of the world’s food energy intake.
Cereals constitute the principal commodity category that the world depends upon for its staples. Cereals include wheat and rice, the principal food staples, and coarse grains, which are used for animal feed. Three—rice, maize and wheat—are staples to more than 4.0 billion people. Rice feeds about half of the world’s population (Loftas 1995).
Another basic food crop is the starchy foods: cassava, sweet potatoes, potatoes, yams, taro and plantains. More than 1 billion people in developing nations use roots and tubers as staples. Cassava is grown as a staple in developing countries for 500 million people. For some of these commodities, much of the production and consumption remains at the subsistence level.
An additional basic food crop is the pulses, which comprise a number of dry beans—peas, chickpeas and lentils; all are legumes. They are important for their starch and protein.
Other legumes are used as oil crops; they include soybeans and groundnuts. Additional oil crops, used to make vegetable oil, include coconuts, sesame, cotton seed, oil palm and olive. In addition, some maize and rice bran are used to make vegetable oil. Oil crops also have uses other than for food, such as in manufacturing paints and detergents (Alexandratos 1995).
Small landholders grow many of the same crops as plantation operations do. Plantation crops, typically thought of as tropical export commodities, include natural rubber, palm oil, cane sugar, tropical beverages (coffee, cocoa, tea), cotton, tobacco and bananas. They may include crops that are also grown for both local consumption and export, such as coffee and sugar cane (ILO 1994).
Urban agriculture is labour intensive, occurs on small plots and is present in developed as well as developing countries. In the United States, more than one-third of the dollar value of agricultural crops is produced in urban areas and agriculture may employ as much as 10% of the urban population. In contrast, up to 80% of the population in smaller Siberian and Asian cities may be employed in agricultural production and processing. An urban farmer’s produce may also be used for barter, such as paying a landlord (UNDP 1996).
Characteristics of the Industry and Workforce
The 1994 world population totalled 5,623,500,000, and 2,735,021,000 (49%) of this population was engaged in agriculture, as shown in figure 1 . The largest component of this workforce is in the developing nations and transitional economies. Less than 100 million are in the developed nations, where mechanization has added to their productivity.
Figure 1. Millions of people engaged in agriculture by world region (1994)
Farming employs men and women, young and old. Their roles vary; for example, women in sub-Saharan Africa produce and market 90% of locally grown food. Women are also given the task of growing the subsistence diet for their families (Loftas 1995).
Children become farm labourers around the world at an early age (figure 2 ), working typically 45 hours per week during harvesting operations. Child labour has been a part of plantation agriculture throughout its history, and a prevalent use of contract labour based upon compensation for tasks completed aggravates the problem of child labour. Whole families work to increase the task completion in order to sustain or increase their income.
Figure 2. Young boy working in agriculture in India
Data on plantation employment generally show that the highest incidence of poverty is among agricultural wage labourers working in commercial agriculture. Plantations are located in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, and living and working conditions there may aggravate health problems that accompany the poverty (ILO 1994).
Agriculture in urban areas is another important component of the industry. An estimated 200 million farmers work part-time—equivalent to 150 million full-time workers—in urban agriculture to produce food and other agricultural products for the market. When subsistence agriculture in urban areas is included, the total reaches 800 million (UNDP 1996).
Total agricultural employment by major world region is shown in figure 1. In both the United States and Canada, a small proportion of the population is employed in agriculture, and farms are becoming fewer as operations consolidate. In Western Europe, agriculture has been characterized by smallholdings, a relic of equal division of the previous holding among the children. However, with the migration from agriculture, holdings in Europe have been increasing in size. Eastern Europe’s agriculture carries a history of socialized farming. The average farm size in the former USSR was more than 10,000 hectares, while in other Eastern European countries it was about one-third that size. This is changing as these countries move toward market economies. Many Asian countries have been modernizing their agricultural operations, with some countries achieving rice surpluses. More than 2 billion people remain engaged in agriculture in this region, and much of the increased production is attributed to high- production species of crops such as rice. Latin America is a diverse region where agriculture plays an important economic role. It has vast resources for agricultural use, which has been increasing, but at the expense of tropical forests. In both the Middle East and Africa, per capita food production has seen a decline. In the Middle East, the principal limiting factor on agriculture is the availability of water. In Africa, traditional farming depends upon small, 3- to 5-hectare plots, which are operated by women while the men are employed elsewhere, some in other countries to earn cash. Some countries are developing larger farming operations.