FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

A Resilient Spirit driving Action on Empty Pesticide Container Management

Stories of women’s leadership in Pesticide Management in the Caribbean

Anna Mary Seraphine- Registrar of Pesticides in The Commonwealth of Dominica

When hurricane Maria made landfall in Dominica in 2017, it caused widespread devastation. The impact of this category 5 hurricane was catastrophic for this small island developing state. As Dominicans grappled with the immediate aftermath of the hurricane including the loss of homes and livelihoods, persons like Anna Mary Seraphine recognized quickly that they would be more longer-term impacts that if not addressed, could threaten the health and safety of Dominicans for decades to come.

Long regarded as the Nature Island of the Caribbean, Dominica boasts tropical rainforests and lush vegetation, ideal for a booming agricultural and fisheries industry. Bananas, coconut, citrus, avocados, mangoes and an abundance of vegetables and livestock make up the main crops grown. This, along with a vibrant fishing industry make up the mainstay of the Dominican economy and participation in agriculture can be found throughout the island.

“In Dominica, this is what we are known for, so we try to limit use of pesticides and educate as much as we can on the dangers of their use to maintain this reputation. The diversity of people means that there is varying use in our farming communities. For example, among the Kalinago there isn’t much use of pesticides as indigenous methods provide more natural ways of dealing with pests. However, in other communities, pesticides are used to get rid of any little thing!”

Although attempts to raise awareness and sensitize the public to the continuous negative effects was taking place, the passage of hurricane Maria revealed a stark reality of not only the use of pesticides but the poor disposal, of empty pesticide containers, into the environment and waterways.

“In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria the number of empty pesticide containers we saw along the shoreline was astounding. In the hills, there are many farms, farmers throw the containers into the bushes after using the pesticides. When there is flooding, the containers in these areas come down to the coast, through the rivers and settle on the shore.”

These unwashed and unpunctured containers, mean residues are seeping into the environment, with harmful chemicals entering waterways, potentially affecting not only human health but also marine life. The destruction of property due to high winds also resulted in the exposure of tonnes of obsolete pesticides stocks, with chemicals being soaked due to heavy rainfall and, leaching into the ground and waterways.

“For years we were thinking about how to get rid of these obsolete pesticide stocks. The hurricane destroyed our storage units, and this became a renewed priority for importers and farmers who wanted to build back better in terms of the proper storage of pesticides.”

Bolstering Empty Pesticide Container Management systems and the Disposal of Obsolete pesticide stocks are two of the main component of FAO’s Caribbean Pesticide Management Project. The work done over the last 4 years has made tremendous inroads by supporting the work of persons like Anna Mary and the Pesticides Control Board.

“The project not only helped us remove the obsolete stocks from our country, but it truly opened our eyes to the dangers of pesticides - helping us to teach our farmers about triple rinsing, proper storage and other protective measures. Empty Container Management is very important to us, and we now have better systems in place to support this, including updating legislation which will now address this specifically and can be used as a tool for enforcement.”

Drawing on the positive example of her mother, who has worked for over 40 years in the forestry sector, Anna Mary’s resilient Dominican spirit and passion to see better pesticide management practices has already brought benefits to the agricultural sector. She has shown the value of leadership and decision-making, an important gender need in the management of natural resources in the Caribbean and elsewhere.

 “FAO has helped us to think beyond solutions to these problems, to having a more transformative system of pesticide management that replaces highly hazardous pesticides in its entirety with more safer or organic options and methods, for example through integrated pesticide management. The project has made this possible!”

This International Women’s Day we salute Anna Mary and others like her, working for a more sustainable and just approach to environmental management including pesticide use and doing so in a way that takes climate and disaster risk into consideration.

Anna Mary Seraphine is the Registrar of Pesticides in The Commonwealth of Dominica.