Analysis of causes of accumulation of obsolete pesticides

   It is important to identify and understand the factors that have contributed to the formation of the present stockpiles of obsolete pesticides in order to formulate preventive measures. This chapter provides a further analysis of the categories of causes of accumulation as listed earlier in section 1.3.

2.1 Banning of products

In many countries, where a range of products has been banned or withdrawn for health or environmental reasons, the fate of existing stocks in the country is often given scare consideration. Stocks remain where they are stored and eventually deteriorate. This particularly applies to organochlorine compounds that are part of strategic stocks for locust control.

2.2 Inadequate stores and poor stock management

Insufficient storage capacity for pesticides

   The government authority responsible for national pesticide stocks often does not have sufficient storage capacity to store all its pesticides safely. Many stores are poorly constructed, have insufficient ventilation, are too hot and/or do not have concrete floors. Because of space constraints, pesticides are often not properly stacked, thereby reducing access to products and making it difficult to monitor the condition of containers. At several locations, pesticides are even stored in the open for prolonged periods of time. Poor storage conditions accelerate the degradation of pesticides and their containers. New products are sometimes stored inappropriately because obsolete products are occupying the limited storage space.

Staff not trained in stock management

   Storekeepers of major stores and those responsible for national stocks are often not familiar with the rules for good stock management (proper stacking, product segregation, principle of "first in - first out", etc.). Leakage and spills may not be cleaned up immediately because staff have not been trained how to handle them, or because the necessary materials and protective gear are not available. Contamination and improper stacking may affect the condition of other products and may impede a consistent application of the principle of "first in - first out". Stock records may not be regularly updated and communicated to the central authority responsible for establishing the country's pesticide requirements.

Inappropriate handling during transport

   Drums and other packaging materials are often damaged through rough handling or in transport. When drums are battered, their inner and outer coatings may be damaged, which will accelerate corrosion and shorten their life. Unnecessarily long periods of exposure to direct sun during transit is another important factor that affects both the container and its contents.

Unavailability of analytical facilities

   Because laboratory facilities for pesticide quality control are not available in most developing countries, it may be difficult to determine whether a pesticide may still be used after its indicated shelf-life has expired. Inadequate labelling and the absence of a date of manufacture/release on labels or on the container may complicate the matter. For this reason, there is often an understandable tendency to deviate from the principle of "first in - first out" and to use a newer product to be certain of its effectiveness; this practice leads to prolonged storage of older products.

2.3 Unsuitable products and packaging

   Products may have been donated that were unsuitable for their intended use and have therefore remained in store and deteriorated.

Inappropriate active ingredient or formulation

   Examples of cases where products have been considered unsuitable include the following:

Impractical package size or poor container quality

   Bulk quantities of pesticides are commonly supplied in 200-litre metal drums. For countries without good repackaging facilities this may create problems if the pesticides are intended for use by plant protection staff, extension staff or small-scale farmers. In order to transfer the contents of large drums into smaller packages, large quantities of small empty containers, a pump, labels, etc. are needed. These are often not available, or are insufficient, at the repackaging location. Consequently, pesticides may remain unused or improvised measures may be taken that are dangerous to handlers or users.
   Pesticides are sometimes delivered in containers of poor durability that soon start leaking. Once drums have corroded or leak, they can no longer be transported, which makes it considerably more difficult to use their contents. The same applies to torn bags and other damaged packaging.
   If the container quality is not specified in tender documents, bidders may be tempted to reduce their price by compromising on the quality of containers.

Missing or incomplete labels

   In some cases, pesticides are not used because the potential user does not know the specifications of the product, or how to apply it, since labels are missing or incomplete, are illegible (as a result of rain, sunlight, leakage), or are in a language alien to the user.

Insufficient communication between aid agency and recipient country

   In several cases, the quantity, active ingredient, formulation or packaging of donated pesticides are inappropriate for the intended use. Such mistakes occur because of a lack of detailed specifications in requests for pesticide donations and/or a lack of background information and justification. On their part, aid agencies often make insufficient efforts to obtain such information before processing requests for pesticide donations.

Fraudulent practices of unreliable suppliers

   Examples are also known of consignments that have not been used because the product had been adulterated by an unreliable supplier in order to increase profits and was no longer suitable for the intended purpose.

2.4 Donations or purchases in excess of requirements

Inaccurate assessment of requirements

   An assessment of the necessary quantities of pesticides is generally based on approximate estimates of the area to be treated. Insufficient consideration is often given to the actual agro-ecological conditions (e.g. variations in intensity of pest outbreaks, economic thresholds, etc.) and to factors that may limit the use of pesticides such as the local application capacity (availability of spraying equipment, protective clothing and trained staff), storage facilities and the effectiveness of distribution systems. The ability of the envisaged users to pay for the product is another factor that is sometimes overlooked. In addition, there is a tendency to overestimate requirements in order to avoid any shortages.
   Centralized and up-to-date information on existing in-country stocks is sometimes not readily available or is incomplete, which complicates the assessment of additional requirements. In this case, the national authority responsible for the assessment of the country's yearly requirement of pesticides may not rely on these stocks and will keep them out of the equation when drawing up a list of products to be procured or requested from donors.

Lower than expected pest incidence

   The possible extent of an expected pest outbreak is sometimes difficult to forecast. A lower pest incidence than expected may result in unused pesticide stocks.
   In the past, this was particularly true for outbreaks or invasions of migratory pests. Countries that established large strategic pesticide stocks in preparation for possible upsurges or invasions often ended up with large quantities of unused products. The risk was further increased by decentralizing such stocks.
   Monitoring of locust outbreaks has greatly improved with the FAO Emergency Centre for Locust Operations programme. Internationally coordinated control strategies based on the monitoring of developments in locust outbreaks have demonstrated that pesticides can be flown in on time and that large strategic stocks are therefore no longer necessary.

Overstocking of products with a short shelf-life

   Most currently used pesticides have a two-year shelf-life. Tropical conditions characterized by excessive heat, high humidity and/or strong fluctuations in temperature may reduce this already short life span. During medium- or longer-term storage periods, these products degrade and become unusable. Overstocking of such products is a common cause of pesticides becoming obsolete.

Excessive donations

   Aid agencies have sometimes provided pesticide donations far in excess of requirements. In several cases this has involved products manufactured in the home country of the aid agency or funding government (see also section 2.6).
   Under some agricultural input supply programmes that last for a number of years, the provision of pesticides is automatic until notice is given to stop. This system, depending on feedback, does not always work effectively. In some cases, it has led to an accumulation of pesticides when demand dropped and supply was not adjusted.
   Some examples are known of unsolicited pesticide donations.

Removal of subsidies

   Many countries are reducing or removing subsidies from pesticides. The rationale behind the adjustment of pricing policies is both technical and economic. Direct and indirect subsidies on pesticides are not desirable because they stimulate overuse and over-reliance on pesticides and frustrate the introduction of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Moreover, structural adjustment programmes require the removal of subsidies from agricultural inputs to establish rational market mechanisms. This often causes a temporary or structural drop in demand. As a result, stocks may remain in store longer than planned and are at increased risk of becoming obsolete.

FIGURE 4 - A partial view of a consignment of malathion pesticides donated from a donor to a recipient country
and now obsolete. Some have leaked and seeped into the ground, while others have caused high-pressure buildup
that has distended the tops of the barrels

2.5 Inadequate coordination among and within aid agencies

Poor coordination among aid agencies

   Insufficient coordination among aid agencies providing pesticides, especially for locust and other migratory pest control operations, has been a major factor in causing excess donations of pesticides. Recipient governments do not usually have any guarantee that the required pesticides will be provided by the donor agency they first contact. In emergency situations, this may lead to simultaneous requests for assistance being made to various agencies, with the hope that at least one will react in time. In the end, the requested amount may be received from more than one donor. Given this undesirable situation, FAO is enhancing donor coordination in emergency situations, both at the international level and the national level in recipient countries.

Administrative procedures within aid agencies

   Slow processing of requests for pesticides, in some cases, has meant that the pesticides have arrived too late.
   Project or programme funds are often allocated for spending within a certain period. Consequently, timing for the procurement of pesticides is sometimes determined by budgetary factors, rather than by actual requirements. This means that recipient countries may be pressed to accept pesticide supplies on a "now or never" basis, which in many cases conflicts with the principle of providing pesticides only when they are actually needed.
   Several aid agencies have not yet assigned responsibility for the appraisal and processing of requests for pesticides to a specific technical office within the agency. Instead, such requests are processed by the country desk concerned. There may be little coordination among country desks themselves, or among country desks, technical departments and procurement departments. Without a specifically designated technical office to appraise requests for pesticides, it may be difficult to build up an institutional memory to avoid repetition of mistakes.

2.6 Commercial interests and hidden factors

   Agrochemical companies, or their local agents, often take the initiative to advise plant protection services and other large-scale users on their pesticide requirements. Sometimes such advice forms the basis for requests to donors. However, companies may not always put the public interest above their own commercial interest and assessments may be in excess of actual requirements. Moreover, the recommended product will probably be one the company supplies and therefore may not necessarily be the most appropriate.
   Large sums of money are involved in pesticide supplies. As a result, a variety of hidden interests may play a role in decisions concerning pesticide procurement or donations. Often these interests are not strictly related to the best technical solution to pest problems. Companies may use a range of aggressive marketing methods that result in procurement of quantities in excess of actual requirements, or of low-quality products. Some individuals involved in pesticide procurement may have personal interests. Donor countries may place increased emphasis on supply of pesticides because of the spin-off for the national pesticide industry, thereby increasing the risk of donations being supply- rather than demand-based. Supply-based donations of pesticides are more likely to become obsolete. Tied aid may restrict the range from which products can be selected.
   Such hidden factors often complicate a sound technical approach to pest and pesticide management and should be identified and addressed in policy decisions.