AGP - Who's responsible?

Who's responsible?

Governments of developing countries, pesticide manufacturers and distributors, multinational organizations, aid agencies have all contributed in some way to creating the huge stockpiles of obsolete pesticides.

And all of them have a role to play in cleaning up these stocks and making sure that no more accumulate.

Stock owners

Responsibility for pesticide stocks lies primarily with the owner of the pesticides. These can be:

  • government ministries, principally Agriculture and Health;
  • parastatal organizations such as, produce boards and cooperatives;
  • the pesticide industry; or
  • farmers and plantation owners. 

When pesticides become obsolete, it is the owner who is responsible for disposing of them safely and in an environmentally sound fashion and for cleaning up any related contamination.

However, very often it is difficult or impossible to determine who owns the old stockpiles. In many, cases the 'owners' no longer exist. For example, state enterprises that have been privatized, agricultural organizations that have broken up or businesses that have gone bankrupt do not retain responsibility for previously accumulated stockpiles of obsolete pesticides. In such cases, stocks have become neglected and even basic storage conditions are not maintained. This results in more rapid deterioration and severe environmental contamination.

Also, pesticide donations may not have been accepted on an entirely voluntary basis. Governments may have accepted pesticide donations that were not what they actually wanted out of fear of offending an important donor or straining political relationships with the government offering the pesticides. In other cases, governments may have accepted pesticides in good faith on the basis of misleading information about their pesticide requirements or the product's effectiveness and chemical properties.

Governments in developing countries

Many governments in developing countries consider pesticides to be absolutely essential for maintaining a productive and competitive agricultural sector. Ministries of agriculture, state-run farms and agricultural boards for major crops, such as cotton and coffee, have played a central role in procuring pesticides and distributing them to farmers, sometimes at below market costs.

Often assessments of pesticide requirements have been excessive and made without considering the country's capacity to distribute, store and manage the pesticides adequately or the farmers' ability to apply the pesticides safely. Whatever the specific causes for their accumulation, the existence of large amounts of obsolete pesticides stocks is practically an inevitable consequence of intense pesticide dependency.

Many governments in developing countries are changing their way of thinking about pesticides, as the financial and environmental costs of prolonged pesticide use, including the accumulation of many tonnes of obsolete pesticides, become better understood. They are investing more into researching and developing new pest control strategies that use fewer pesticides, such as Integrated Pest Management techniques, the approach FAO advocates.

Governments are increasingly transferring the responsibility of procuring and distributing pesticides to the private sector. As a result, large stocks of government-owned pesticides are becoming less common. The extent to which governments can keep pesticide stocks within their borders from becoming obsolete, will depend in large part on their ability to establish and enforce pesticide regulations and licensing procedures on a market-driven supply process.

The governments of developing countries must take the responsibility for dealing with obsolete pesticides and preventing 
their recurrence. External agencies can provide financial or technical support, but cannot impose their will on the recipient country, storekeepers or other organizations or individuals.

When ministers or senior managers give their support to solving these problems, an important message is transmitted, demonstrating that the situation is unacceptable, and that a change in culture is expected and supported in order that it does not recur.

High-level institutional support does not suggest that blame for creation of the stockpiles will be assigned to others. Assigning blame is likely to lead to denial of the problem, hiding of stockpiles or illegal and irresponsible dumping of stocks. Collective responsibility for both preventing the creation and providing the solution obsolete pesticides problems is the most constructive way forward.

Aid agencies

In many countries, particularly in Africa, obsolete stocks are to a large extent remains of pesticides obtained under aid arrangements.

In some cases, these provisions were partly motivated by a desire on the part of the donor agency to provide economic benefits to pesticide manufacturers operating in their own country. In other cases, the donor may have offered the pesticides as a way to get rid of their own unwanted stocks. When donor's interests in the supply of pesticides exceeds demand in the recipient country, there is a high risk the pesticides will not be used and will become obsolete.

Donors have also occasionally failed to scrutinize closely and question pesticide requests. Failures to communicate clearly with officials in the recipient country about their pesticide requirements have led to deliveries of excessive amounts of pesticides or unsuitable products. Too often, aid agencies have been content simply to supply pesticides and not provide the necessary product stewardship that would ensure that the pesticides are distributed, stored and used appropriately.

It could be argued that aid agencies should accept responsibility for the environmentally sound disposal of the remains of their donations if these are uncoordinated, inappropriate or have not been used because they arrived too late. Some have accepted this responsibility willingly.

Multilateral agencies and intergovernmental organizations

Large multilateral organizations, primarily FAO and WHO have procured pesticides for large-scale campaigns to combat agricultural and public health pests. Some of these pesticide stocks have gone unused and become obsolete.

Both FAO and WHO are acutely aware of this problem. They are constantly looking for new strategies for delivering the right amount of pesticides at the right time and looking for new ways of controlling pests with fewer pesticides.

The WHO Pesticide Evaluation Scheme (WHOPES) promotes and coordinates the testing and evaluation of pesticides for public health. It carries out research and development in integrated vector management(IVM), the public health equivalent of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) that FAO promotes.

FAO's Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES) for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases was set up in an effort to minimize the risks of major outbreaks of migratory pests and ensure that effective and timely control methods are made available. EMPRES monitors the situation of locusts, ensuring pesticide sprayings are timely and carried out in as limited an area as possible. It is also researching new methods for controlling outbreaks of migratory pests using biological pesticides. The Programme also works to ensure that pesticide donations are coordinated effectively so that excessive amounts of pesticides don't arrive in the affected countries. The programme also helps countries to manage their stocks of pesticides and all waste, in particular empty pesticide containers, that are generated as a result of migratory pest control operations.

The pesticide industry

Pesticides are big business. 2004 was a record year for global pesticides sales: nearly US$33 billion.

The world's largest pesticide companies, all located in industrialized countries, are represented by a global federation called CropLife International. CropLife International companies include:

  • BASF
  • Bayer CropScience
  • Dow AgroSciences
  • DuPont
  • FMC
  • Monsanto
  • Sumitomo
  • Syngenta

A significant proportion of the world's obsolete stocks originated from CropLife International companies. This is especially true in Africa and Latin America. In countries of the former Soviet Union, obsolete pesticides stocks are largely made up of products manufactured by state-owned companies.

There are many smaller pesticide companies in developing countries that are not part of CropLife International. Most are located in China and India.

These smaller companies produce pesticides whose patent, usually held by a CropLife International company, has expired. These are known as generic pesticides. CropLife companies also manufacture generic pesticides and they do so in much larger quantities than the smaller companies.

Many of these smaller manufactures are reputable, but many others are producing pesticide products of sub-standard quality. However, because local manufacturers tend to gear production, marketing and packaging to local needs, it is unusual to find locally formulated products among obsolete stocks.

Just like any business, the pesticide industry has to make money to survive. However, CropLife International also recognized the important role it has to play in insuring public health and environmental safety.

Since 1991, CropLife companies have participated, to varying degrees, in obsolete pesticide clean-up projects around the world.

CropLife International has committed up to US$30 million, both as direct funding and as provision of expertise, over the 15 year expected lifetime of the African Stockpiles Programme.

CropLife International, along with many governments and prominent NGOs and civil society organizations, has agreed to abide by the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides. In doing so, they have committed themselves to taking measures to prevent the accumulation of obsolete pesticides and containers and to promote environmentally sustainable pest control methods, such as Integrated Pest Management, that reduce pesticide use.