Manejo integrado de plagas y plaguicidas

Teaming up for sustainable management of pesticide waste and containers


Everyone must work together to tackle agrochemical waste, panelists said at the third FAO Plant Production and Protection Division (NSP) seminar titled "Towards sustainable management of obsolete stocks and pesticide packaging through multi-stakeholder cooperation" that took place virtually on 18 November 2021. The virtual seminar was organized to share knowledge on successful practices for obsolete stock and container management and raise awareness of the importance of multi-stakeholder approaches. 

"Stockpiles of obsolete pesticides and associated waste are often poorly stored, generating toxic chemical leaks into the environment and contaminating water, soil and food," observed FAO Deputy Director-General Beth Bechdol, in opening the meeting.

“An estimated 330 000 tons of plastic pesticide containers are produced every year," Bechdol said. "These are often reused by farmers to contain water and other materials, resulting in serious health problems," she added. 

"Large stocks of obsolete and hazardous pesticides and empty pesticide containers are known to be held by national authorities, farmers and others in various areas of the world," said FAO Plant Production and Protection Division Director Jingyuan Xia, who moderated the webinar and emphasized the need “to delve into global coordination efforts to manage pesticides and associated waste through multi-stakeholder cooperation".

Private sector a "key driver" to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

FAO Resource Mobilization and Private Sector Partnerships Division Director Alexander Jones explained that "according to FAO and World Bank estimates, we need investments of approximately 3.5 trillion USD per year to achieve the 17 SDGs, and global development assistance only totals about 152 billion USD a year."

The vast majority of resources comes from the private sector: farmers, small and medium enterprises, multinationals, banks, foundations and industry associations, Jones explained. "So the private sector is the key driver in achieving the SDGs," he said.

"A duet not a duel": a private sector perspective

CropLife International President and CEO Giulia Di Tommaso said that a multi-stakeholder approach "requires all of us to go beyond a rearview mirror perspective." CropLife is an international trade association of agrochemical companies.

"It requires a new mindset, where all the parties involved share the same principles and values as citizens and as human beings," Di Tommaso said. "I personally believe that multi-stakeholder collaborations often involve clashes of ideas, because it is only through these that we can generate new light and new beginnings. We need to engage in diverse views as a duet rather than as a duel."

FAO Senior Agricultural Officer Baogen Gu, who leads the Pest and Pesticide Management team, said obsolete pesticides are accumulating worldwide. "There are about 240 000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides stockpiled in Eastern Europe, over 50 000 tonnes in Africa, and over 30 000 tonnes in Latin America. Each year, only 30% of all the pesticide containers entering the market globally are collected through 57 container management schemes (CMS). The rest are burned, buried, used to store water or food, or dumped, posing a threat to human health and the environment," Gu told participants.  

Starting in 1994, FAO has worked with 72 countries through its programme on agrochemical waste management. As of 2021, FAO had supported the development of national container management schemes in 31 countries, assisted 42 contries in analysis of soil contamination and remediation, and disposed of 9 742 tonnes of obsolete pesticides, Gu explained. 

Examples of multi-stakeholder approaches from around the world

Brazil is an example of virtuous practices. Its 30-year-old pesticide waste and container recovery and recycling system successfully integrated all the players in the value chain, from farmers to companies.

"We spent around 10 years developing a federal law, and now the numbers are amazing," said Federal Agricultural Inspector Luis Eduardo Rangel from Brazil's Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Food Supply (MAPA). 

Between 2002 and 2020 over 80% of metal and other packaging materials and more than 94% of plastic packaging were recovered and recycled. "We have huge facilities to organize and transform recycled materials, and we were able to show companies that this can be a profitable process," Rangel said.

In China, the government works with pesticide producers, sellers, and users to set up a collection and recycling system for pesticide packaging. 

"The pesticide producers and sellers are required to fulfil their obligations to recycle, and to bear the cost of treatment" of the empty containers, explained Zhang Shuai, Senior Agronomist and Deputy Director of Pesticide and Sprayer Application at the National Agricultural Technology Extension and Service Center (NATESC), an agency within China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA).

Mahmoud Said, Project Coordinator for Croplife International in Egypt, said that "we have around 20 million empty pesticide containers, and current practices are really bad. The farmers reuse them to contain water, or burn them unsafely on their farms."

In response, the Egyptian government is working with end users, the pesticide industry, and recycling companies to implement a national container management scheme and to educate smallholder farmers on the hazards of improper reuse and disposal.

In Kenya, Ayub Macharia, Director of Environmental Education and Awareness at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry said that on average each year, 120 tonnes of empty pesticide containers are collected at 295 collection centers in the country. 

"The reason we have been successful in establishing these centers is that there is farmer ownership of the initiative," Macharia explained during the webinar. 

In France, the A.D.I.VALOR non-profit alliance of crop protection stakeholders is an example of farmers, manufacturers and distributors sharing joint responsibility for pesticides throughout their life cycle.

"They pay an eco-fee to the National Crop Protection Association and this covers A.D.I.VALOR's expenses for the collection, transportation, and recycling" of pesticide waste and packaging, explained A.D.I.VALOR Director General Pierre de Lépinau. "We now collect more than 85% of containers, and we recycle over 80% of them."

Also in Kenya, Cereal Growers Association (CGA) CEO Anthony Kioko said that in his country there is a lack of awareness, which leads to poor management of pesticide waste and containers. The CGA has a membership of 200 000 farming households and over 100 private sector companies. "We conducted a survey last month and we found that only 33% of farmers we work with dispose of their empty containers and obsolete chemicals safely," Kioko said. 

The CGA supported the establishment and management of 41 disposal centers, reaching 5 750 farmers and creating jobs in the process. "We think the private sector has an opportunity to invest a lot more in empty container disposal, and we also want to revisit the recycling option," he added.

Remaining challenges and way forward

A number of challenges to the sustainable management of agrochemical waste remain, especially in low and middle income countries. Panelists concurred that these include lack of adequate regulations and national programs, technology and resources, but also weak stakeholder engagement and collaboration between sectors, lack of sound pesticide and associated waste data, and resource factors. 

However, "there is high potential for all of us to work together to ensure tangible results," Xia said in his concluding remarks. 

He numbered three ways forward: continued awareness raising of the importance of a multi-stakeholder approach, continued technical support at the global and national level, and policy and regulation support.

"Institutions should provide easy and practical technologies for farmers to follow," Xia recommended. "All stakeholders must continue to engage and try our best to support our farmers." 

As well, international cooperation is key "because nobody can make this a success on their own," Xia said.

The seminar was attended by 259 participants from 85 countries. Going forward, FAO will continue to work to raise awareness of the importance of environmentally sound agrochemical waste management and promote multi-stakeholder collaboration in order to successfully preserve human health and the environment while producing enough nutritious food for everyone.

The recording of the seminar is now available here