In the absence of safe and environmentally sound
local disposal facilities, and in view of the high cost of shipping
pesticides out to an incinerator, which most countries cannot afford,
obsolete pesticides often remain in store until containers corrode
and the contents leak. If no action is taken, large quantities of
concentrated pesticides will eventually leak into the environment,
with severe consequences for public and animal health, and the
environment itself. Contamination of groundwater may be irreversible.
Stocks of obsolete pesticides should therefore be regarded as
chemical time-bombs that can cause environmental and human
Donor assistance may be available for the disposal of obsolete stocks, but will always be considered a one-time option, with the understanding that the country concerned will take the necessary measures to avoid further accumulation of obsolete pesticides. It is highly unlikely that aid agencies will be prepared to help dispose of newly accumulated pesticides if old stocks have already been disposed of with their assistance.
Large sums of mainly hard-currency capital are involved when pesticides are allowed to become obsolete. Costs include those for the original purchase of the unused product, transport and storage, repackaging and disposal, cleaning up contamination and product replacement. Heavy contamination of groundwater may have far-reaching economic and social implications. Costs of mitigating damage caused by leaked pesticides are generally several times those of preventing the damage.
Disposal problems should therefore be avoided by applying prior measures to reduce the risk of pesticides becoming obsolete. Several simple and straightforward measures are described in sections 3.3, 3.4 and 3.5. Some of these measures may require a certain investment (e.g. upgrading pesticide stores). However, such investment will offer returns by saving huge expenditure on disposal and clean-up operations and by avoiding costs related to environmental damage resulting from contamination.
FIGURE 5 - A cocktail of obsolete and unwanted pesticide in corroded or rusted containers such as barrels, tin cans
and torn jute bags, in substandard storage conditions. Most liquid pesticides have leaked into the ground
and powder pesticides have caked
Responsibility for pesticide stocks lies
primarily with the owner of the pesticides, who might be the
government or individual ministries (Ministries of Agriculture and
Health); semigovernmental bodies (produce boards, cooperatives); the
pesticide industry (stocks for sale held by companies); or private
users (plantations, farmers). The owner should manage pesticide
stocks in a proper, safe and environmentally sound manner and take
the necessary precautions to prevent stocks from becoming obsolete.
Where pesticides become obsolete, the owner is responsible for
disposing of them safely and in an environmentally sound fashion and
for cleaning up any related contamination.
However, a grey area appears to exist. In certain cases it might be queried whether pesticide stocks have been accepted on an entirely voluntary basis. Governments may have accepted pesticide donations that were different from what they actually wanted for fear of offending an important donor or straining political relationships with the government offering the pesticides. Present governments may have inherited stocks from previous ones or, in some cases, governments may have accepted pesticides in good faith on the basis of incorrect information about requirements, effectiveness or properties.
Apart from the responsibility attached to ownership of pesticides, suppliers also have certain responsibilities. Aid agencies providing pesticides have a moral and political responsibility to ensure that donations are appropriate (in terms of product, quantity, packaging and timeliness) and are in accordance with the specifications of the recipient government. It could also 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. Agrochemical companies that use unethical methods to sell pesticides should also be held accountable for obsolete stocks resulting from such practices.
Aid agencies have a general responsibility to assist recipient countries in avoiding the buildup of obsolete pesticide stocks, particularly because many of the pesticides at present used in developing countries are supplied under aid arrangements, and because UNCED Agenda 21 and the Basel Convention call for assistance to developing countries in avoiding the generation of hazardous waste.
Guidance on how the generation of obsolete pesticides can be prevented is given in sections 3.3, 3.4 and 3.5 below.
FIGURE 6 - Distended barrels that have leaked liquid pesticides into the ground since the bottoms have cracked
open through rust and sheer chemical pressure
It is recommended that governments and other
large-scale users examine critically their policies on pesticide
management, plant protection and vector control; their procedures for
assessing pesticide requirements; and their procedures for
procurement of pesticides. This would help to improve policies and
procedures and minimize the risk of generating hazardous waste in the
form of obsolete pesticides. It may moreover be necessary to revise
pesticide management regulations and/or provide training for
government and non-government staff responsible for stockkeeping at
Recommendations on prevention for small-scale users are provided in the Guidelines on disposal of pesticide containers and small quantities of pesticides waste. Guidance for farmers and extension staff (UNEP/FAO/WHOb, in preparation).
The following recommendations should be considered for incorporation in pesticide management policies, regulations and procedures.
Give priority to IPM in plant protection programmes. For several major crops the use of pesticides may be reduced considerably through IPM4. The same applies to vector control programmes in public and animal health programmes. Reduced use of pesticides will also reduce the need for large stocks. Pest control policies should therefore be geared towards strengthening IPM and Integrated Vector Control (IVC) capabilities and reducing pesticide use5. Pesticides should be sold at realistic, unsubsidized prices to avoid excessive use by farmers and so as not to frustrate the introduction of IPM and IVC.
Reduce the amount of pesticides by careful selection of products. In many cases, conventional pesticides can be replaced by more modern products (such as biological pesticides and growth inhibitors) that are more selective, less dangerous to human beings and animals and of which much smaller volumes are required. A major reduction in volume will help avoid storage and distribution problems and take away the need to keep large stocks. It is recommended that present products be evaluated and alternatives to conventional pesticides investigated. Although modern products are still relatively expensive, reduced transport and storage costs may (partly) compensate for this.
Keep pesticide stocks as low as possible. Determine
which pesticides are needed, how many, when they will be used, and
how. Pesticide procurement should be based on what is actually and
immediately required. Stocking more than one season's pesticide
requirements should be avoided because storage under tropical
conditions may further reduce the already short shelf-life of many
products. In addition, several factors may cause a sudden change in
requirements or use (such as the development of resistant strains;
introduction of new and less hazardous pesticides or pest control
methods; new scientific facts concerning environmental or health
implications of certain pesticides; different pest outbreaks from
those foreseen; and changes in pesticide pricing policies).
Supply/importation arrangements at short notice and efficient delivery and distribution systems make it less necessary to stockpile pesticides. Improving supply and distribution arrangements will lead to reduced stocks. Investment in distribution systems should be regarded as an alternative to investment in large stocks.
Prepositioning of stocks at the provincial level for migratory pest control emergency operations could possibly be avoided by making arrangements to distribute pesticides at short notice from a national stock. This will often be more cost-effective and, moreover, prepositioned stocks generally run a higher risk of becoming obsolete.
Make accurate assessments of requirements. Before ordering pesticides or making requests to aid agencies, need and expected use should be assessed accurately. Factors that may limit the actual use, such as the application capacity and the effectiveness of the distribution system, should be taken into account. For an adequate assessment, the following questions may be relevant:
To facilitate a rational appraisal of requests for pesticide donations, the above information should be provided as standard background information with each request for pesticides from governments to aid agencies (see also section 3.4 and Annex 2).
Review the role of the government in pesticide distribution. In many countries, a large quantity of pesticides is distributed by the government because it can:
The first reason for government distribution may
no longer be valid since many countries have adjusted their pricing
policies and have abolished pesticide subsidies or are gradually
removing them. In many countries, private sector distributors have
expanded their retail networks, thereby reducing the need for the
government to play an active role in distribution. In addition,
government agricultural policies may have shifted towards IPM.
The need for pesticide distribution through government channels should be critically reviewed. A less pronounced role in distribution will reduce the necessity for governments to keep large pesticide stocks. Government involvement in pesticide distribution should be substituted by more strict control in the private sector, allowing it to supply the market originally serviced by the government.
Anticipate the effects of changes in pricing policies. Large quantities of pesticides should not be stocked if there are plans to review, reduce or abolish subsidies or preferential tariffs for pesticides. In several countries, such measures have led to a stagnation in pesticide sales and prolonged storage of stocks.
Ensure in advance that products are effective. Do
not procure, or accept, products that have not been tested in trials
conducted under conditions comparable to those of the intended
Ask the supplier for a certificate of analysis, which should confirm that the chemical and physical properties of the product correspond to the standards set out in the FAO specifications for plant protection products (FAOa, in preparation).
Provide detailed specifications when procuring or requesting pesticides. The following factors should be taken into consideration:
Formulation should be suitable for application equipment available; should be heat stable if storage under tropical conditions is foreseen; and should be stable enough to last at least as log as the foreseen storage period.
Package type should be durable enough to stand foreseen transport and storage conditions and storage period.
Package size should be suitable/practical/affordable for the end-user.
Label should contain a batch number and date of manufacture/release and should be in line with FAO Guidelines on good labelling practice for pesticides (FAO, 1994a); it should be well attached and should be resistant to sun, heat, water and leakages.
Pesticide consignments that have not been
requested, or that deviate from the requested specifications or
quantity, should not be accepted.
For further guidance concerning the procurement of pesticides see Box 1 and FAO (1994b).
Specifications for the tendering or procurement of pesticides
Tender documents and direct procurement orders should:
Furthermore, tenders and orders should state that the supplier will bear all expenses for the removal, upgrading or disposal of pesticides, should the supplied product deviate from the specifications as quoted in the tender document or direct procurement order.
See also FAO (1994b).
Some examples of container specifications that would increase the durability of 200-litre drums:
+Exchange information on pesticides to enhance judicial selection of pesticides. Countries are recommended to evaluate the usefulness of different pesticides and to share this information with other countries. Specific points of evaluation would include the product's efficacy; possible development of resistant pest strains and induced pests; and the product's impact on human health and the environment. To facilitate the exchange of such information, a database could be established within an international organization, to be used by recipient countries and aid agencies to enhance judicial selection of pesticides.
Avoid damage during transport. Avoid rough handling
of drums during transit, transport and storage.
Periods of temporary storage at transit points should be reduced to a minimum. Exposure of containers to sunlight should be minimized during transport and transit.
Ensure proper storage. Allocate sufficient proper storage space and ensure good storage practices. See Box 2, Annex 3 and FAO (1995).
Determine whether older products can still
be used. Older pesticides should be tested to establish
whether they can still be used. Expiry of the indicated shelf-life
does not automatically mean that the product is no longer usable
since the actual life of the pesticide, when properly stored, may be
much longer. If in doubt, analysis should establish whether or not
the product is still usable. Generally this would not be so after
prolonged storage beyond the shelf-life of two years, or after a
period of storage under unfavourable conditions. If the pesticide
still meets its original specifications, then the "date of
test"should be written on the label for future reference. Older
products that can still be used should be given priority over more
Arrangements for quality analysis could possibly be made with a neighbouring country, an aid agency, or a commercial standards bureau, if laboratory facilities are not locally available. FAO specifications for plant protection products (FAOa, in preparation) offer guidance on acceptable deviations from the original properties of the product. Analysis costs are very small compared with costs of disposal, which may have to be incurred later if older stocks remain.
For pesticides that do not form more toxic decomposition products than the original product, it may be possible to conduct trials to establish whether the pesticides are still usable. Expert advice on the expected decomposition products would be required and could possibly be obtained from the manufacturer.
Ten rules for proper pesticide storage and stock management
The following principles for storage management should be adhered to in order to keep pesticide stocks in good condition and to enable staff to take appropriate action in the event of leakage or other emergencies.
Reduce surplus stocks and other not directly usable
stocks. Avoid allowing present stocks that are unlikely to be
used before their expiry date to become unusable and obsolete. It is
recommended that an inventory be made of all non-operational stocks
in order to identify products that are still usable, but are not
likely to be used and for what reason. If there is a specific problem
hindering use, it could perhaps be solved. For example, wrongly
formulated products might be reformulated; products of a wrong
package size could be repackaged; unidentified products could be
identified through analysis; products that cannot be transported
because of damaged containers could be repackaged; products that are
no longer needed for the purpose originally intended may be used
differently, and so on.
If no solution can be found and there is no alternative use within the country, pesticides might be offered to a nearby country that is in need. It is cheaper to give away a product free of charge than, at a later stage, be faced with huge disposal costs and/or environmental contamination. If pesticides are passed on to other countries, a certificate of analysis provided by an independent laboratory should confirm that the product is still usable. International transport regulations on packaging requirements should be observed. Older products will often require repackaging prior to transportation. The type and unit size of packaging should be chosen in consultation with the recipient country.
When banning a certain pesticide, due
consideration should be given to a phasing-out period for existing
stock. Prohibiting production and importation of the product,
followed by a total ban on sale and use, could be started as soon as
national stocks of the product are exhausted. Whether phasing out is
desirable should be decided on a case-by-case basis, depending on
various factors such as the actual environmental and health hazards
connected to the use of the product.
Avoid pesticides that are subject to increasing international concern and are being banned in a growing number of countries. Participation in the FAO/UNEP Prior Informed Consent (PIC) scheme will help to recognize such pesticides.
Governments are recommended to use the appropriate legislative tools to ensure that pesticide stores of private companies are adequate for the safe storage of pesticides. The principles listed in Box 2 should be adhered to. All deviating situations should be corrected immediately. Spills should be cleaned up and obsolete products disposed of in a safe and environmentally sound manner.
FIGURE 7 - One of the steps necessary in decating, repackaging and transporting obsolete, unwanted and
banned pesticides in an affected country. The disposal process can be hazardous when
appropriate care and precautions are not taken
3.4 Guidelines for aid agencies6
In many countries, particularly in Africa,
obsolete stocks are to a large extent remains of pesticides obtained
under aid arrangements. These aid arrangements comprise direct
donations of pesticides, as well as financial aid packages that
include the procurement of pesticides on preferential financial
Aid agencies not only have a moral obligation to help prevent the buildup of obsolete pesticide stocks, but should also anticipate increasing pressure to fund the disposal of stocks remaining from their donations.
The following recommendations provide guidance for aid agencies to help avoid the stockpiling of obsolete pesticides in developing countries.
Help strengthen IPM capabilities. For several major crops the use of pesticides may be reduced considerably through application of IPM strategies. Increased emphasis on IPM would reduce the need to keep large stocks of pesticides. Aid agencies should therefore assist governments to strengthen their IPM capabilities as a sustainable alternative to merely supplying pesticides7.
Reduce stocks through better selection of products. Before providing pesticides, investigate whether conventional pesticides can be replaced by more modern ones (such as biological pesticides and growth inhibitors) that are more selective, less dangerous to human beings and animals and of which smaller volumes are required. The relatively high price of such products will be (partly) compensated by reduced environmental and health hazards, more sustainable production and a reduced risk of stocks becoming obsolete.
Provide pesticides only on the basis of well-specified requests. Do not provide pesticides on the basis of requests that have not been submitted or cleared by the relevant national authority in the recipient country and that lack:
The aid agency should contact the requesting
country in order to obtain any missing information before concluding
its appraisal procedure. (A checklist is provided in
The quantity provided should be consistent with actual requirements and the local capacity to store, distribute and apply the pesticides. General and vaguely specified requests for pesticides, especially for bulk quantities for programme, emergency or balance-of-payments assistance, should not be considered. Pesticide supplies that are routinely provided under ongoing input supply programmes should be reappraised.
Do not provide pesticides before they are needed. Pesticide donations should be demand- and not supply-based (see section 2.6). Do not urge countries to accept pesticides on a "now or never"basis because budget allocations have to be spent before a deadline. It is better to try to make administrative arrangements to carry over funds.
Ensure that all pesticide donations comply with national pesticide legislation and PIC. Pesticide donations should always fully comply with national pesticide legislation and relevant regulations of the recipient country. Pesticides that are provided as donations also fall under the provisions of the PIC scheme, which must be complied with.
Ensure that the supplier delivers the correct product. Tender documents or direct procurement orders should provide detailed product specifications and state the responsibilities of the supplier (see Box 1).
Avoid the provision of large consignments. If a large quantity of pesticides is to be provided, consideration should be given to the possibility of phased delivery, whereby each consignment is delivered once the previous one is almost finished. The extra costs for phased delivery could be regarded as an insurance fee against the risk of pesticides becoming obsolete and requiring expensive disposal operations. Single donations should never increase the national stock to such an extent that the total exceeds a one-season requirement, nor should the total exceed the local storage or application capacity during one season.
Avoid the establishment of large on-site strategic stocks. Large on-site strategic stocks for emergency operations should be avoided. Instead, "pesticide bank"arrangements should be considered. These are arrangements between the aid agency and the manufacturer, whereby pesticides are kept on hand at the location of manufacture to be flown directly to the location of use when actually required. The extra costs for air transport are largely compensated for by savings in costs of in-country storage and transport; reduced risk of strategic stocks becoming obsolete and requiring disposal; and possibly a reduced requirement of pesticides as a result of a more efficient allocation. Pesticide bank arrangements need to be effective and reliable in order to replace strategic stocks successfully.
Provide pesticides with hazard reduction packages. All pesticides should be provided with material safety data sheets as well as the following emergency equipment, if this is not yet available at the destination:
Hazard reduction packages should also include medical instructions and antidotes for health posts, protective clothing and appropriate application equipment for users, when these items are not available at the locality of intended use.
Assist with chemical analyses of older pesticides. Respond positively to requests for assistance in conducting analyses to determine whether pesticides of doubtful quality (after prolonged storage or storage under unfavourable conditions) can still be used. Standing arrangements between aid agencies and independent laboratories in the donor country could offer a solution and should be investigated.
Other assistance. In addition to the points mentioned above, aid agencies can help to avoid problems with obsolete pesticides by providing:
Interagency coordination concerning locust and migratory pest control. Pesticide donations for locust and migratory pest control emergency operations should be coordinated with the FAO Plant Protection Service (the address is given in Annex 5), which temporarily established the Emergency Centre for Locust Operations (ECLO). This would help avoid excessive donations.
Coordination within larger aid agencies. Inadequate
internal coordination within larger aid agencies has sometimes led to
inappropriate donations, or to delivery of donations after long
delays. The arrival of pesticides in the recipient country after
their need has passed has been one of the common causes of
accumulation of obsolete pesticide stocks. It may often be better not
to supply pesticides than to supply them too late.
To improve internal coordination with regard to pesticide donations, each aid agency should designate one of its technical offices as the focal point for pesticide matters. The responsibilities of this office would include the appraisal, approval and recording of all pesticide donations provided by the agency. This would build up an institutional memory that would help to prevent repetition of mistakes.
Evaluate large pesticide donations. Aid agencies
should evaluate their major pesticide donations (over 10 tonnes) to
determine whether all products have been used as envisaged. The
results of such evaluations should be taken into consideration when
appraising new requests for pesticide donations.
For further guidance on pesticide donations in general, reference should be made to OECD (1995).
Annex 3 contains a checklist for the appraisal of requests for pesticide donations. The purpose of this checklist is to avoid accumulation of obsolete stocks and to reduce environmental and health hazards related to the use of pesticides.
Product stewardship should include active
involvement in avoiding the accumulation of obsolete stocks.
Companies should query orders for supplies of pesticides that, in
their expert opinion, are unsuitable for the intended purpose, cannot
be stored safely by the authority ordering the pesticides, or are
likely not to be used.
Agrochemical companies should ensure that their products contain a date of manufacture/release and a batch number. Material safety data sheets should be provided with each consignment. Provision of additional information on product stability under tropical circumstances and storage and stacking recommendations would be useful. Where the life of a product is shorter than two years, the expiry date should be printed on the label.
On the request of developing countries or aid agencies, the original producer should offer its expertise and advice on recommended disposal methods and other matters related to disposal and clean-up operations. For surplus products that can still be used, agrochemical companies should assist governments in identifying potential users in other countries.
Agrochemical companies should establish effective delivery systems to provide products at short notice so that large stocks do not need to be held in the country.
Return services should be developed to take back unused quantities of pesticides, in particular unwanted products that can be reformulated, and surplus stocks that can be used elsewhere. The modalities for such arrangements need to be worked out by the pesticide industry in conjunction with international organizations and national authorities. As an incentive for such services, the fact that companies are prepared to accept the return of unused products might be taken into consideration by governments and aid agencies when they select a supplier.
Agrochemical companies should take full responsibility for pesticide stocks at their distribution centres, stores and outlets in developing countries, including those of their local agents or subsidiaries. Responsibilities would include ensuring safe storage conditions and proper stock management (in line with the rules in Box 2); immediate clean-up of spills and other contamination; and removal of obsolete products for safe and environmentally sound destruction to international standards. Encouraging examples are known of multinational companies that have cleaned up contaminated sites at their local formulation plants or stores and shipped the obsolete products for incineration to a special hazardous waste incineration plant. Such clean-up operations should become a standard element of product stewardship.