South Africa is a diverse country, with a diverse environment that is home to more than 49 000 000 people. Pesticide usage is very often necessary to maintain both agricultural productivity as well as human health. The climatic conditions range from semi-tropic to semi-arid regions. Although the majority of the country has summer rainfall, the south western coastal region is predominantly a winter rainfall area. These variations in climate allows for a wide variety of crops, from tropical fruit to maize and tree plantations. Each individual crop is susceptible to a unique host of pests that in-turn require a unique mixture of pesticides to ensure the best resulting turnover. Currently, South Africa has more than 500 registered pesticides (Pesticide Action Network (PAN), 2010) and is one of the four largest importers of pesticides in sub-Saharan Africa (Osbanjo et al., 2002). In 2006 the import of insecticides, fungicides and herbicides that were packaged for retail totalled $ 170 056 000 the main import partners being Australia, China, Germany and the United States of America (USA) (International Trade Centre, 2011). These pesticides are used in almost every facet of our everyday lives; ensuring the quantity and quality of food we eat to managing the number of rodents and insects in our homes. Although it is evident that there is a vast amount of pesticides present in the South African environment, there is very limited data on the production of pesticides. The last published data indicates that in 2002 around 10 000 kℓ of liquid insecticides was produced exclusively for crop protection of which 43% consisted of organophosphates. During the same year 2 800-tonnes of solid insecticides were produced (Statistics South Africa, 2003). Although the usefulness of pesticides cannot be denied, the negative environmental and human health effects cannot be ignored. In South Africa, a number of environmental and anthropogenic factors have to be considered before the impact of large-scale pesticide use can be assessed.
South Africa is a water poor country, with water resources being utilised to their maximum capacity. As discussed by Dabrowski et al. (2009), the trade-off between the economic benefits of exporting agricultural products has to be measured against the loss of water, not only through crop irrigation but also through water quality degradation. The article highlighted this aspect through the calculation of virtual water volumes. These calculated volumes indicated that to ensure sufficient dilution of all agrochemicals, to an acceptable water quality level (used in a typical farming situation applying current-use pesticides), was greater than the amount of water needed for irrigation. The seriousness of these scenarios is highlighted in literature where a diverse array of agricultural chemicals has been measured during run-off events, by once-off sampling and by water monitoring during the growing seasons. Detectable levels of atrazine, terbuthylazine, simazine, acetochlor (Du Preez et al., 2005), DDT and its metabolites, endosulfan, hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH), heptachlor, aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, chlordane (Fatoki et al., 2003), azinophos-methyl, chloropyriphos (Schultz et al., 2001; Dabrowski et al., 2002) prothiofos (Schultz, 2001), malathion, zendoxsulfan (Thiere & Schultz, 2004), cypermethrin and fenvalerate (Bollmohr et al., 2007), to name a few, have all been measured in South African waters. Pesticides in the aquatic environment have the potential to affect all end-users, including both humans and wildlife.
South Africa has the distinction of being one of the countries with the most species richness in the world. To date more than 900 bird species as well as over 200 mammals, call South Africa home. Of these mammals, seven species are endangered and 30 are vulnerable according to the 2004 IUCN red data list (IUCN, 2010). These endangered species include bats, moles, shrews and mice that are often insectivorous, thus increasing their risk of unintentional exposure to pesticides. Within avian populations, 11 species are listed as critically endangered and 43 species as vulnerable. The sensitivity of avian species to pollutants has been widely reported. With this unique diversity of species, South Africans have a responsibility towards maintaining the viability of ecosystems and natural habitats to ensure the continued existence of these creatures. This objective is not only morally relevant but also economically relevant especially in a country where tourism creates over 400 000 jobs and contributes approximately 8% to the GDP. Few studies have reported the levels of insecticides in wildlife species. However, pesticides have been detected in wild bird species (Van Wyk et al., 2001; Bouwman et al., 2008), as well as in indigenous fish species (Barnhoorn et al., 2009), indicating pesticide contamination within various habitats. This is of particular concern due to the health risks associated with many pesticides.
Rijeka, Croatia: InTech, 2011, 1. 49-96 p.