Farms and plantations’ heavy dependence on pesticides is sounding an alarm on occupational safety in North Sumatra, one of Indonesia’s main oil palm producing regions. Some of the banned active chemical ingredients are widely available on the black market, while workers and farmers are ill-informed about the dangers of agricultural chemicals, reports The Jakarta Post’s local correspondent, Apriadi Gunawan.

by Apriadi Gunawan

A coterie of farm workers were sitting under the shade of oil palms as they took a break at a plantation in Tanjung Morawa subdistrict, Deli Serdang regency. The day was steamy and the breeze blew a whiff of the pesticides they had applied on crops of the 900-hectare estate controlled by PT Lonsum, one of the largest agricultural enterprises in Indonesia. As they joked, a man carrying a pesticide spray tank on his back whizzed by on his bicycle, smiling at them. They called him pak Yadi, a 53-year-old rice farmer and their good neighbor in a nearby village. He passes by the estate every day. What was shocking was that none of the men who handle pesticides every day wore any protective clothing, even when they are spraying the agricultural chemicals. That day, the workers had just sprayed herbicides to kill weeds in the plantation, and pak Yadi was on his way to his farm to apply pe...