FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

Soil remediation and green technologies offer solutions to pesticide pollution and soil sustainability

©FAO/Vyacheslav Oseledko

29/05/2024, Almaty

As part of an ongoing pesticide management and disposal project from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in Central Asia and Türkiye, two international events were held in Almaty, Kazakhstan. 

To discuss the latest trends and explore the ways digital technologies can ameliorate the management of pests and pesticides in Central Asia, a workshop on emerging green technologies for pest and pesticide management on 15 April was conducted. 

This workshop was followed on 16 April by an international conference on bioremediation and phytoremediation technologies for contaminated agricultural soil towards green agriculture. 

Improving the management of pests and pesticides with emerging green technologies 

Digital technologies are helping transform traditional agricultural practices into sophisticated, data-driven systems that can more efficiently produce crops feeding the world and protect people, the environment, and natural resources. FAO leverages the potential of these digital technologies to test, accelerate and scale the innovative ideas at the forefront of green agricultural systems.

Representatives from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Türkiye met with innovators, policymakers, researchers, and other actors at the event on 15 April to discuss the digitalization in agrifood systems and agricultural waste management, and the use of remote sensing and sensor-based technologies in pesticide management, and the importance of quality data in the management of obsolete pesticides. Another topic of discussion was the accessibility of applicable technologies at the farm level to increase ownership among farmers.

Participants learned about how emerging digital technologies can improve agricultural efficiency and boost the management of associated wastes while reducing their environmental and health impacts.

In conventional agriculture, more than 90 percent of pesticides applied never reach their targets – but still negatively impact the environment. However, cutting-edge technologies have the potential to transform pest and pesticide management through higher efficiency and increased sustainability, offering innovative solutions for lowered pesticide use and increased monitoring and mitigating of pesticide impacts, said FAO Agriculture Officer Tania Santivanez, the lead technical officer on the project. The workshop showed concrete examples of technological innovations that aim at sustainable transformation in Central Asia towards greener agrifood systems, Santivanez said.

Mukhtar Aliyev, Deputy Chairman of the State Inspection and Agro-Industrial Complex Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan, highlighted the importance of the robust combination of digital solutions in pest and pesticide management – at both institutional and field levels – for improved pesticide life-cycle management and enhanced production efficiency while preventing the harmful impacts of pesticide use and reducing obsolete pesticide stocks. 

Committee of the State Inspection and Agro-Industrial Complex of the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan has been a strong supporter of digital agriculture in addressing pesticide management issues in the country as presented by large number of Kazakh solution providers in the workshop, Aliyev said.

Cleaning agricultural soils in Central Asia with soil remediation 

Around half the obsolete pesticides in the world can be found in the former Soviet Union, according to estimates, with a large portion currently sitting in Central Asia. Due to the mandatory application and oversupply of pesticides during the Soviet period – including pesticides that are banned today – there remain numerous landfills and agricultural land in the region contaminated with obsolete pesticides above safe health and use levels. The numbers and sizes of landfills differ from country to country, but what has remained the same throughout the years is that pesticides have been spread widely, leading to large-scale soil contamination in vast regions – including areas that contain villages and farmlands.

The key to addressing this large-scale soil contamination by pesticides in the region is the soil remediation. However, considering the large areas and volumes involved, cleaning solutions must be economic.

For the first time for the purpose of discussing soil remediation, policymakers, innovators, researchers and other stakeholders from Azerbaijan, Czechia, Denmark, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Netherlands, Serbia, Tajikistan, and Türkiye gathered at the conference on 16 April to discuss the approaches and technologies for soil remediation to address pesticide-contaminated soils in the region and to exchange information regarding remediation implementations across the world.

Clean soil is key to ensuring green agriculture and safe production.  That is why, under the ongoing FAO and GEF project in Central Asia and Türkiye, three-year soil bio and phyto remediation trials are currently underway in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to test promising technologies in different settings, said FAO Agriculture Officer Tania Santivanez, the lead technical officer on the project. She added that the presentation of successful results from both countries, on top of direct observation of the trials in Kazakhstan, encouraged the discussion of strategies for scaling up remediation initiatives in the region.

Additional local trials should be held to create tailor-made solutions, she said, adding that better governance for local built-up solutions for large areas is essential to tackling this extent challenge.

The soil remediation process

Soil remediation is a method used to remove, immobilize, or transform pollutants from contaminated soils for the protection of human and animal health and the environment. Untreated contaminated soil poses numerous risks, depending on the contaminant, such as human health risks, ecosystem service disruptions, water resource pollution and biodiversity loss. Older pesticides were often based on a chemical group called persistent pollutants, which tend to accumulate in the food chain and cause serious long-term impacts. Through remediation processes, various soil pollutants – heavy metals, petroleum hydrocarbons, persistent pollutants, pesticides and others – can be removed or transformed by certain microorganisms and plant species.

Since bioremediation and phytoremediation are more environmentally friendly, sustainable and cost effective than other soil cleaning methods (including excavation and incineration), they are among the best and cheapest options for addressing lightly polluted soils, especially in Central Asia.

These two consecutive international events highlighted the need in the region for good governance of soils and pesticides management and how innovative and green technologies can serve to rehabilitate contaminated soils into sustainable and productive soils that will help to ensure greener agrifood systems and improve public health, livelihoods, and the environment.