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The problem of pesticide poisoning

0 million
deaths since the Green Revolution

A global health problem

Every 3 minutes someone dies from ingesting pesticides, making it one of the most common methods of suicide worldwide.

Over 75% of all global suicides occur in low and middle-income counties (LMICs), with one fifth of these the result of pesticide poisoning. Many of the 150,000 annual deaths from pesticide consumption occur in young people, with each death causing immense pain to families and communities.

Access to lethal pesticides

Most cases of pesticide self-poisoning occur in agricultural communities in South and East Asia. Residents have easy access to lethal pesticides which are sold locally without controls and stored in their homes.

During the Green Revolution in the 1960s, countless new pesticides became available to buy from local vendors. Many of these new pesticides were toxic to human health, resulting in high rates of pesticide suicides. 

It is estimated that 14 to 16 million people worldwide have died from ingesting pesticides over the last 50 years.

patient in hospital bed

Acts of self-harm

The majority of people who self-harm through pesticide poisoning do not intend to die.

Self-harm is usually a spontaneous act, one that is not planned or thought through. Research shows that more than half of the people who harm themselves by ingesting pesticides decided to do this less than 30 minutes before committing the act. The introduction of acutely toxic pesticides meant that acts of self-harm with household poisons, which were previously relatively harmless, then became lethal.

For every death, there are 20 attempts to self-harm. Whether or not someone dies depends on the toxicity of the pesticide they have to hand.

Challenges collecting data

A clear barrier to pesticide suicide reduction in LMICs is a lack of capacity to collect data, such as which pesticides are most used for suicide. In many countries, data collection on suicide is difficult due to immature surveillance systems. 

Pesticide suicides may also be underreported due to the stigma of suicide and the perceived negative consequences of reporting cases in countries where attempted suicide remains illegal. 

Treatment difficulties

Consumption of pesticides hospitalizes over 2 million people every year. Treatment of patients is difficult to manage in hospitals, especially those with limited resources, and many patients die after they are admitted to hospital. 

Unintentional poisoning

Each year, there are also an estimated 385 million cases of unintentional poisoning among farmers using pesticides, resulting in around 11,000 deaths.

Food can also become contaminated. In 2013, 23 children died in Bihar, India, after eating a lunch provided by their school that was contaminated with a highly hazardous pesticide.


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