NSP - Unsuitable products

Unsuitable products

When pesticides purchased by developing countries or donated by aid agencies aren't right for the job, they will sit unused and the formulations and containers will deteriorate. It is imperative that industry, governments and donors work together to ensure that pesticide products arriving in developing countries are suitable for their intended purpose.

The International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides provides guidelines and principles that address the main causes of this problem as described on this page.

Inadequate field-testing

Without proper testing in the field it is impossible to know whether a pesticide formulation that has been proven effective against pests in the donor or manufacturing country will work under conditions in developing countries. If no field-testing is done beforehand, the product may be found to be unsuitable for use and will remain in storage and become obsolete. There are a number of reasons the product may be unsuitable, such as:

  • the local varieties of the pest or weed are simply not killed by the pesticide; 
  • the side effects on the crop and other beneficial insects and plants are too costly;
  • the formulation degrades and becomes ineffective quickly under tropical conditions; or
  • the product can't be used with the available application equipment.

Many countries require pesticide products to undergo field-testing before approving it for use. If unapproved pesticides are imported, they may become obsolete by the time the required field tests are completed and evaluated.

Impractical containers

In some case the pesticide itself may be effective, but the containers it comes in make it impossible to use safely. Bulk quantities of pesticides are commonly supplied in 200 litre metal drums or 25 kg sacks of powder.

The United Nations(UN) require hazardous material such as pesticides to be transported in UN approved and tested containers. UN rules apply to international transport and are written into the legislation of many countries. Some suppliers may reduce their costs by using low quality containers. The large drums may quickly begin to leak, which makes it impossible for them to be transported and the pesticide becomes extremely difficult to use.

The large size of the containers often creates big problems if plant protection experts, extension workers or farmers want to use the product in small amounts. When pesticides are sold in quantities that exceed the users requirements, much of the product will go unused.

The International Code of Conduct on the Ditribution and Use of Pesticides states that packaging or repackaging of pesticides should be done on only licensed premises where staff are adequately protected against toxic hazards. The process requires large numbers of containers, pumps and labels and strict quality control. However, many developing countries don't have these facilities. As a result, dealers often transfer pesticides from bulk containers to smaller ones for sale to the public. The new containers may originally have been for drinks or medicines and are generally not properly labeled.

This is an extremely dangerous practice because it deprives the users of the essential information about the hazards associated with the product and the dose required for effective use. More seriously, other people, especially children, may not realize that the bottle or container contains pesticide and can easily poison themselves.

Missing or illegible labels

Labels indicating the product's hazards and the required doses for effective use are a necessary component of any pesticide product. Pesticides cannot be used, or may be used in a very dangerous manner, if they don't have labels or if the labels have become illegible because of exposure to sun, rain or leaking chemicals or if they are written in a language that users can't understand.

Pesticides without product labels should be disposed of unless the means exist to unambiguously identify them, verify that they are usable, and re-label them.

See guidelines on good labelling practice for pesticides

Lack of communication

Sometimes pesticide donations remain unused, either because the quantities provided were too large for the recipient country's needs or the formulation or the containers were unsuitable. The root cause in such cases may be a lack of communication between the donor and the recipient country or inter-governmental agencies coordinating aid efforts.

Both parties can be at fault. It is up to the requesting country to provide precise specifications on the type of product needed and detailed information about how and why the pesticide will be used. Donor agencies need to carefully review the request and ask for complete information if not enough details are provided.

Constant feedback between the donors and the recipient country is particularly important for programmes in which pesticides donations are supplied over a number of years. Clear channels of communication about how the pesticides are being used need to be maintained to ensure that the original assessments of pesticide requirements are still valid and that stocks are not accumulating.

Lack of product stewardship

Product stewardship means the responsible and ethical management of a pesticide product from its discovery through to its ultimate use and beyond.

It can often take a long time for pesticides to clear customs and reach their final destination in developing countries. If they are to be used in very remote areas, they can arrive very close to their expiry date or even after. Sometimes expired or damaged pesticides are sold by vendors who are reluctant to remove these products that they have paid for from their stock. 

It is also common to find pesticides stored in poor conditions and large stocks that are not managed systematically to ensure that the oldest products in a store are used first.

Donors, pesticide suppliers and distributors, government agencies and parastatal organizations that provide pesticides all have a responsibility to ensure that pesticides are dealt with properly and efficiently after they have reached the recipient country. However, this sort of product stewardship does not always happen, with the result that pesticides supplied to help the country become unusable and end up creating a health and environmental hazard.

Fraud and smuggled products

Fake pesticide products, illegally imported pesticides, adulterated products are commonly found in market places and pose a serious danger to health and the environment as well as often being ineffective and are hence a drain on farmers extremely limited financial resources. It is also common to find products that have been sold for use on specific crops or in other sectors such as helth being sold for use on the open market for general use.

These illegal practices are often difficult to control in developing countries even if relevan laws are in place because the expertise and resources to police pesticide sales are beyond their means. Where policing does take place, confiscated illegal pesticides are often stockpiles and add to the obsolete pesticide stocks in countries that have no means of dealing with them appropriately.

Obsolete pesticides stocks in Bolivia
Obsolete pesticides stocks in Bolivia