IMPOCHA - Improving soil, potato crops, human health and forage quality in a climate change context

Last updated on 18-3-2022 by Jill Alexandre
July 1, 2021
June 30, 2024

In short

Intensive potato production is a major source of pesticide spread against fungus (fungicide) in the agricultural environment, with potential harmful effects on the micro-organisms living in the soil, as well as potential exposure of farmers and nearby rural populations.

The IMPOCHA project aims to look into fungicides’ impact on the environment and human health. In addition, a second objective is to assess whether climate change conditions alter the way in which fungicides are applied to potato crops.

Project summary

Potato is one of the most important starchy foods in the world. In Belgium (BE), China (CN) and South Africa (SA), potato is a major staple food. Also from an economical point of view potato is a major vegetable crop:

  • BE is number one exporter of frozen potato products
  • CN is the largest producer and consumer of potato in the world and produces alone a quarter of the world production
  • In SA, potato comprises 50% of the value of the total vegetable crop and generates 10% of the employment in the agricultural sector.

At the same time, intensive potato production is a major source of fungicide spread in the environment, with potential exposure of farmers and nearby rural populations.

Objectives

  • To assess the impact of potato growing on the environment and human health, under real-world conditions and experimental conditions that mimic climate change
  • To assess the fungicide exposures of farmers and their family (BE and CN) by means of a questionnaire on agricultural practices and fungicide usage. Silicon wristbands will be used as a proxy for human exposure. The fungicides present in the wristband will be analysed and consequent risk assessment will be performed.
  • To assess the impact of agricultural practices on the soil microbiome in BE, CN and SA by comparing agricultural practices including pesticide usage on the microbiome in potato soils (using next generation sequencing).
  • To assess the effect of different agricultural practices on the forage quality (and thus animal health) in SA, in root cover crops planted after potato crops in the same fields.
  • To assess the impact of climate change, growth chamber trials with elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations and warmer/drier climatic conditions, and greenhouse experiments simulating warmer/drier conditions will be used in BE, CN and SA to evaluate the reaction of soil microbiomes of various quality (diversity) to these new conditions.

The silicon wristband is a passive sampling tool to estimate human exposure to chemicals as an alternative for human sampling. It is a straightforward tool, with a potential to facilitate human exposure assessment for epidemiological population studies. The project will test and validate this tool for selected pesticides in BE and CN. The project will also provide a protocol for assessing fungicide exposure of farmers and their family. 

Associated Health Topics

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