• Obsolete pesticides - the Africa Stockpiles Programme

    When developed countries prohibit the use of dangerous chemicals a logical question arises: what to do about existing stocks in developing countries?

    Over time stocks have accumulated worldwide of banned chemicals and pesticides, some of which are Persistent Organic Pollutants or POPs*. Banning apart, these substances also become obsolete through ageing, rendering them less effective (past sell by date) but no less unsafe. They may be left over from pest control campaigns or simply stay around because they are not wanted anymore.

    The condition of obsolete pesticide stocks and waste can vary from well-stored products that could still be used, to products leaking from corroded drums and other containers into the soil. Disposal is sometimes attempted by dumping in pits or burning and covering with soil. Over time severe environmental harm in the form of soil and water pollution - often permanent- may occur. Storage sites are often unsupervised and pose severe health risks, particularly to children. WHO estimates suggest as many as 3 million people are poisoned by pesticides annually, most of them in developing countries.

    There is also the risk that without formal cleanup and prevention measures obsolete pesticides may be repackaged and reappear in the market under different names. Many are very persistent which, health and environmental hazards aside, also makes them effective as pesticides for long periods and renders them attractive for illegal resale.

    Safe disposal requires sophisticated technology that, mostly, is not available in poorer developing countries. The quantities to be disposed of may however not warrant the establishment of such facilities in individual countries. In many cases this then leaves export to approved disposal facilities elsewhere as the best option. Not only are the costs of this extremely high, ranging from USD 3,500 to 5,000 per tonne, but the material to be disposed of is not homogeneous. There is therefore no blanket solution for the disposal of obsolete pesticides. It is clear though that unless the issue is properly addressed, future generations in affected countries will continue to suffer the consequences of illegal disposal of these substances, many of which are used in agriculture.

    Coffee producing countries worldwide are not immune from this. Different products may have been used in the past that are now prohibited and whose safe disposal presents not only safety and logistical problems, but is also very expensive. Illegal repackaging and resale could cause enormous problems whereas contamination into export crops is a real possibility. Condemnation of a country's green coffee exports for containing residues of such substances would have very serious, long-term economic consequences!

    In Africa alone it is estimated that there could be as much as 50,000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides! In response to requests for assistance from many African countries, the Africa Stockpiles Programme - ASP** was therefore created to help address issues around the identification, safeguarding, removal and safe disposal of obsolete pesticides, and to prevent future accumulation. Initially targeted at seven priority countries (as of early 2009) with more countries to be added in due course.

    The ASP website offers a huge amount of information and links on this important subject that interested readers are urged to consult. Information on similar initiatives for the Asia and Latin America regions can be found at http://www.fao.org/ag/AGP/AGPP/Pesticid/Disposal/en/index.html.

    * Of the twelve POPs listed by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, adopted in 2001, nine are pesticides: aldrin, chlordane, endrin, dieldrin, heptachlor, DDT, toxaphene (campheclor), mirex and henxachlorenebenzene. DDT is however exempted for restricted use by some countries in anti-malaria campaigns. To note as well that some trade pesticide products do not necessarily indicate the active ingredients by name, making it difficult to identify them correctly.

    ** Some of the international organizations partnering developing country governments in ASP include the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN, the World Bank, The World Wide Fund for Nature, the Global Environment Facility, the African Development Bank, the Pesticides Action Network- UK, and CropLife International.

    Updated 04/2009
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