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FAO in Mozambique

FAO collection sites help rid Mozambique of dangerous pesticides

Since Mozambique cancelled the registration of 79 Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) in 2014, the Government and FAO have been highly engaged in protecting the country’s people and environment. Working with the National Directorate of Agriculture and Silviculture in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, FAO has helped to promote an ecosystem-based approach to pest and pesticide management.

HHPs are pesticides that present particularly high levels of acute or chronic hazards to human health and the environment due to their inherent chemical properties and that are listed in internationally accepted classification systems or relevant binding international conventions.

FAO has been working to locate, collect and dispose of the banned HHPs throughout the country.

It is another cloudless day in Chimoio, Manica Province, in central Mozambique. As people go about their business on the bustling streets of the city, it is hard to believe that a short drive away a warehouse stands, holding large quantities of highly toxic products. This warehouse is an FAO obsolete and HHP collection and re-packing site, one of only two such major sites in the country.

Khalid Cassam, the FAO pesticides specialist in charge of coordinating these facilities, explains that this initiative is the only one of its kind in the country. “We first undertook a national inventory of banned pesticides, followed by their collection and re-packing. This second stage is taking place now in our warehouses,” he says, gesturing to the building looming in front of him. “The final step will be the transportation of the pesticides for disposal and incineration in an environmentally sustainable way.”

Inside the facility, Cassam explains the set-up of the storage and re-packing site, pointing out the ‘red zone’ where the pesticides are re-packed and where people have an increased chance of exposure. “Only workers wearing orange protection suits are allowed to enter this area”, he warns. The de-contamination zone is directly to the right, marking where the red zone ends. Three basins of water are placed in the vicinity, one for washing boots and two for glove de-contamination and washing.

Stacked up on all sides of the warehouse, covering every available space, are 20 litre containers, the toxic contents of which workers are emptying methodically into 200 litre vats. This is slow work, and calls for close attention. “There have been no accidents or incidents since the project started”, says Cassam. Still, some of the 20 litre containers have degraded over time and are a particular hazard to the team, as they have a higher chance of cracking and leaking their contents. “For these, an electric pump is used to re-pack the contents,” he explains.

During summer, when the temperature can soar over 40 degrees centigrade, the team’s re-packing work, as they wear their thick rubber and plastic gear within the confines of the warehouse, becomes truly gruelling. Cassam’s team avoids this inhibitive heat by starting work in the cooler pre-dawn mornings, taking the afternoon off when the sun reaches its peak, and continuing again in the evening.

2015 was a busy year for Cassam and his team. They completed the collection of approximately 300 tons of obsolete pesticides in Mozambique, already re-packing most of it into larger, more secure, containers. When asked what 2016 will bring, Cassam is prompt in his reply. “We expect to complete the repackaging of pesticides and dispose of them safely. We want to restore three areas of the country that suffer from significantly contaminated soil, and we will implement the pilot phase of the empty containers management and awareness-raising campaigns.”

Although the average annual volume of pesticide imports into Mozambique over the past ten years has increased by 500 percent, there is still a generally low level of understanding about the risks associated with their misuse in the country.

FAO’s role in phasing out HHPs

In 2006, FAO member countries requested help to facilitate risk reduction of pesticides, including the pro-active banning of such products and the promotion of alternative solutions.

Since then, a joint FAO and World Health Organization (WHO) expert panel has drawn up a list of criteria to help identify HHPs and FAO has assisted several countries in addressing the risks posed by these compounds.