Rome, 19 September -- The use and trade of toxic pesticides and chemicals should be better controlled in Africa, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today, as officials from 100 governments meet in Nairobi this week to continue negotiating an international agreement on hazardous chemicals and pesticides.

The talks are expected to lead to a legally binding treaty regulating the import and export of hazardous chemicals through the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure. The conference is jointly organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and FAO.

The interplay between the environment and food production has been a major concern and an important topic in preparations for the World Food Summit by Heads of State and Government, to be held in Rome, 13-17 November.

The PIC-procedure currently lists 12 pesticides and 5 industrial chemicals, among them aldrin, dieldrin, chlordane and DDT. Through the voluntary PIC procedure, importing countries can learn about dangerous and toxic chemicals and pesticides that may be shipped to them. They can decide whether they want to permit or ban future imports. The PIC procedure is jointly handled by FAO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

However, organochlorine pesticides, such as DDT, chlordane and heptachlor, which have been banned or whose use has been severely restricted in Europe and North America, are still marketed and used in Africa and other developing countries where many governments lack adequate information and controls.

As of July 1996, 145 states have applied the PIC procedure, designating national focal points, according to FAO data. Out of 50 African countries, 37 named a National Authority. So far 23 African countries have taken import decisions on the 12 toxic pesticides and the 5 industrial chemicals. A few African countries have no approved pesticides legislation.

"Although pesticide use in Africa is lowest overall of all continents because of poverty, instability and unreliable rains, there are areas of intensive pesticide use in Africa as well, for example by large-scale commercial farms, vegetable production around cities and plantations producing export crops", said Niek Van der Graaff, Chief of FAO's Plant Protection Service.

"Considerable scope remains for technical assistance to improve pesticide regulations" and pesticide management. Restrictions on products that cannot be handled safely in developing countries should be considered by the industry and governments". A better applied PIC procedure could help to reduce health and environmental risks.

To minimize health and environmental dangers to farmers and consumers, FAO supports environmentally friendly national Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programmes. Especially in Asia, farmers have successfully reduced toxic insecticides by more than 70 percent and increased rice production. This ensures a more secure food production with less risks and higher profits. Over one million farmers have completed IPM training schools. In Africa, IPM pilot projects have started in Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana and Kenya, where farmers gain experience in implementing IPM in their own fields.

Despite the progress made, IPM needs much more commitment by governments, according to FAO. In particular, assistance to Africa to improve pest and pesticide management is urgently required.