NSP - Excessive donations and purchases

Obsolete pesticide stocks often accumulate because the pesticide supply greatly exceeds the demand. There are a variety of factors that have caused, and continue to cause this to happen.

Inaccurate estimates of requirements

Government authorities in developing countries may not take into account many important factors when drawing up lists of products to be procured or requested from donors. As a result, their pesticide requirement assessments can be excessive.

Pesticide requirements may be based on previous years' use without taking account of variations in cropped areas or pest intensity. There is a tendency to overestimate requirements slightly in order to avoid shortages.

Other considerations, such as the historic variations in the intensity of pest outbreaks and whether estimated crop losses would be severe enough to justify the costs of applying the pesticide, may not be factored in.

They may also neglect factors that would limit the pesticide's use in the country, including:

  • the availability of appropriate spraying equipment, protective clothing and trained staff; 
  • the availability of storage facilities and 
  • the effectiveness of distribution systems to deliver the pesticides to the areas where it is needed;
  • if the product is to be offered for sale, the ability of farmers to pay for it is also sometimes overlooked.

In many countries, centralized and up-to-date information on existing pesticide stocks may not be available. Consequently, these stocks are not included in the calculations for assessing additional pesticide requirements.

Unused strategic stocks

In many countries, strategic pesticide stocks are kept on hand to cope with serious pest emergencies, in particular outbreaks of desert locusts and other migratory pests.

It may be good news for farmers when the locusts don't show up, but the unused pesticide stocks held in reserve often become obsolete and can turn into a serious health and environmental hazard.

For example, in the 1980's pesticides were procured to deal with a locust swarm in Africa. But the swarm ended up being blown out over the ocean and did relatively little harm. The affected countries, however, were left with millions of litres of unused pesticide.

What's worse is the fact that many of the pesticides used in earlier locusts campaigns were organochlorines, such as dieldren. These pesticides, known as persistent organic pollutants or POPs, are highly toxic. They evaporate in hot climates, travel through the atmosphere and settle in colder environments where they accumulate in the food chain. Some were banned in donor-supported locust control programmes in the 1980s. Since then, they have been stored, often under very poor conditions, posing a growing threat to health and the environment.

Some countries in locust affected regions have large stockpiles of obsolete pesticides almost entirely the result of strategic stocks of locust control pesticides. This represents a double waste of money. First the cost of the pesticides, their transport and storage was wasted and now the cost of disposing, which is enormous.

FAO's Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES) for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Disease was established in 1994 to mimimize the risk of major migratory pest outbreaks. EMPRES constantly monitors the status of desert locusts, helps coordinate timely responses to outbreaks and carries out research into the most effective control methods.

A number of different approaches are under research or consideration by FAO and other involved organizations including:

The biopesticide, Green Muscle, based on a fungal pathogen of locusts (Metarhizium anisopliae) has been successfully tested in a number of countries under large-scale field conditions.

A possible alternative to maintaining strategic pesticide stocks in countries at risk of locust outbreaks is for aid agencies and pesticide manufacturers to arrange for the establishment of 'pesticide banks'. Pesticides would be kept on hand at the location of manufacture and flown directly to the location of use when actually required. The extra expenditures for air transport would be compensated for by:

  • savings in costs of in-country storage and transport,
  • reduced risk of strategic stocks becoming obsolete and
  • a potentially more efficient use of the pesticides

Another more radical approach is the zero control option; the locust swarm would be allowed to take its course and farmers would be compensated for their losses. Although this may seem defeatist, in the end it may be more economical and environmentally friendly than spraying tonnes of pesticides on the countryside.


Overstocking pesticide products

Overstocking of pesticides is a common cause of pesticides becoming obsolete. Most currently used pesticides have a two-year shelf-life. However, when they are stored under hot, humid tropical conditions, with wide fluctuations of temperatures, their shelf-life can be greatly reduced. During medium- or longer-term storage periods, these products degrade and become unusable.

Also, changes in the market from one season to the next can affect the crops that are cultivated and the type of pesticides that are in demand. Pesticides procured for a particular use one season may not be needed during the following one. The overstocked products will not be used and will become obsolete.

Donations that don't reflect demand

Aid agencies sometimes provide pesticide donations far in excess of the recipient country's requirements. This may be the result of poor coordination among donor agencies or poor assessment of a recipient country's needs. There are also cases of industrialized countries with excessive or unwanted pesticide stocks offering unsolicited pesticide donations to developing countries.

Even though the recipient country may not need them, officials may be unwilling to refuse the pesticides out of fear of causing offence and compromising future assistance. The donation may be gratefully accepted, but the pesticides are never used. For pesticide supply programmes in which the pesticides are supplied over a number of years, the amount of pesticides provided each year is often renewed automatically.

However, if conditions in the field change, the demand for the pesticides may drop. If these changes are not reported to the donor country, the pesticides continue to arrive in unnecessarily high quantities and stocks accumulate.

Removal of subsidies

Many countries subsidize the costs of pesticides, allowing farmers to buy pesticides below the true market value. These subsidies encourage unsustainable farming practices. When pesticides are readily available and cheap there is a natural tendency to use more than is needed. Farmers have little incentive to try safer, more environmentally friendly alternative pest control techniques. In addition, traditional farming techniques that often rely on sophisticated integrated crop management strategies are undermined by reliance on pesticides and over years the traditional techniques are forgotten and lost.

Also, when pesticides are available at below market costs, profits can be made by smuggling the product to countries where subsidies are not in place. Illegal trafficking in pesticides is a dangerous business. But for many developing countries, policing the cross-border smuggling of pesticides is difficult. And even when customs officials seize illegal pesticides, they may not have the training or the resources to deal with them properly. The products may simply sit unused at the border adding to the national obsolete pesticide stocks.

Many countries are reducing pesticide subsidies or eliminating them altogether. They are finding the economic rationale for pesticides subsidies does not hold water. The money paid out in subsidies is not recovered later through increased revenues from improved production, particularly when the environmental costs of excessive pesticide use are factored in. In fact, in India agricultural production increased when pesticide subsidies were removed. Governments are discovering that investing in the research and develop of alternative pest control techniques makes more economic sense.

External forces are also pressuring governments to eliminate pesticide subsidies. Structural adjustment programmes imposed as a precondition for loans by the World Bank and the IMF often require countries to end agricultural subsidies.

The removal of subsidies is good for sustainable development, but there is a down side. When the price of pesticides suddenly goes up, demand drops. Existing pesticide stocks may remain in storage and become obsolete.

Supply-driven production in the former Soviet Union

In countries of the former Soviet Union, pesticides were manufactured to meet rigid production targets. However, the supply of pesticides often had little relation to the actual demand. Certain pesticides were produced even when it was no longer economically viable to grow the crops they were designed to protect. State farms were obliged to buy the pesticides whether they needed them or not.

As a result of this long period of supply-driven production, obsolete pesticides stocks in former communist countries dwarf those in all other regions of the world.

Pesticides left over from the Mauritanian locust campaign
Pesticides left over from the Mauritanian locust campaign