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Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Calls for greater pesticide controls

Pesticide build-up in Africa presents serious health risks

Toxic pesticides and chemicals used in and traded with Africa should be better controlled, says FAO, as officials from 100 governments meeting in Nairobi continue to negotiate an international agreement to regulate chemicals that pose serious environmental and health risks.

Jointly organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and FAO, the four-day (16-20 September) conference will eventually lead to a legally binding Convention regulating the import and export of hazardous chemicals through the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure.

The PIC procedure currently lists 12 pesticides and five industrial chemicals, including DDT and chlordane, which have been banned or whose use has been severely restricted in Europe and North America, but are still marketed in Africa and other developing countries.

Through the voluntary PIC procedure, jointly handled by FAO and UNEP, importing countries can learn about dangerous chemicals and pesticides being offered for sale. They can then decide whether they want to permit or ban future imports.

To date some 145 states have applied the PIC procedure, according to FAO. Out of 50 African countries, 37 have set up national monitoring authorities. So far 23 African countries have taken import decisions on the listed hazardous chemicals. Yet some still have no approved pesticides legislation.

Although pesticide use in Africa is the lowest of all continents because of poverty, instability and unreliable rains, there are areas of intensive pesticide use. For example, large-scale commercial farms growing vegetables close to the cities and plantations producing export crops apply large doses.

Considerable scope remains for technical assistance to improve pesticide regulations and management. Restrictions on products that cannot be handled safely in developing countries should be considered by the industry and governments.

Meanwhile, to minimize such risks to farmers and consumers, FAO supports environment-friendly national Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programmes. In Asia, farmers have successfully reduced toxic insecticides by more than 70 percent and increased rice production. IPM pilot projects have also started in Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana and Kenya. In this way, more food can be grown with less risk to the environment.

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