risks from using

Risks from using Pesticide Outweigh Benefits

Ethiopia has been an agriculture dependent economy for decades. Among the methods to increase the production of the agricultural sector is the use of pesticides to combat insects, pests and other plant diseases. However, Ethiopia is also contending with transboundary pests and diseases, which travel across borders, infecting crops in multiple countries. There is also an issue with pesticides that are no longer able to be used for their original purpose, or other purposes, being stored unsafely, with no proper facilities with which to dispose of them. EBR’s Ashenafi Endale reports.

Increasing agricultural productivity among smallholder farmers is determined by several factors. One among the major factors is the use of pesticides. In fact, the role of pesticides is now becoming critically important to the modernization of smallholder farming, just like other inputs such as fertilizer, irrigation and modern seeds.

Best practices indicate that through the use of pesticides, it is possible to double food crop harvests by reducing losses from weeds, insects and pests that can markedly reduce the amount of harvestable produce. Even when diseases threaten crops, proper use of pesticides can minimize losses by 70Pct.

For agriculture based countries, like Ethiopia, which have been repeatedly affected by various crop related diseases, the role of pesticides is immense. In Ethiopia, losses due to crop diseases are estimated to be higher than 40Pct without including storage pest damage. For instance, an outbreak of wheat rust disease in major wheat-growing areas caused lots of damage in 2016, following a long El-Nino induced drought. Since wheat, which covers an estimated 17Pct of Ethiopia’s total agricultural land, is the third most important crop for food security in the country, the impact of wheat rust was massive and threatened the food security of Ethiopians.

Michael Melese, general manager of KAMMAD Pest Control, which also provides spraying services using aircrafts, says most farms have reached the point where they cannot survive without pesticides. “Many farmers who can afford it are asking us to spray herbicides for them. For the rural farmer, genuine supply and proper use of pesticide is critical.”

Ethiopia satisfies almost all its pesticide demand through import. Pesticide imports are largely conducted by government enterprises, which control 40Pct of the total imported pesticides every year. The rest is handled by the private sector and agricultural cooperatives. Established in 1991, the state-owned Adami Tulu Pesticide Processing is the only local company that produces and supplies Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane (DDT) and other pesticides. There are also currently 66 private pesticide importers, up from 40 in 2013.

Last fiscal year, the estimated national demand for pesticide was around 10 million liters, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery (MoAF). However, the total imported amount was 2.57 million liters, which is 25Pct of the demand.

Five years ago, however, the total imported pesticide was around 5.22 million liters. “The amount of pesticide that is imported has gradually decreased due to foreign currency shortages,” explains Zebedios Salato, director of the Plant Protection Directorate at MoAF.

There are two types of crop diseases: trans-boundary and conventional. While conventional crop diseases arise and spread within a given country, transboundary plant pests and diseases affect food crops across at least one political border. The spread of transboundary crop pests and diseases has increased dramatically in recent years due to globalization, trade and climate change, as well as reduced resilience in production systems due to decades of agricultural intensification. For instance, 28 African countries were affected by Fall Army Worm in 2017, according to a report by the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International. The disease, which was first reported in Africa in 2016, now presents a permanent agricultural challenge for the continent.

“Ethiopia has no capacity to fight even the conventional diseases, let alone trans-boundary pests. There is only one center in Kenya working on trans-boundary diseases,” says Bekele Dinku, director of Agrochemical at Agri-CEFT, a private company that owns the one of the largest commercial farm in the country.

The reduction of imported pesticides through official channels has paved the way for contraband. “It is difficult to differentiate between genuine and counterfeit pesticide products,” Getachew Belete, a farmer in Ziway town, tells EBR.

Rebecca Amha, former program manager at GIZ and the current head of the Private Sector Engagement Programme at the World Bank, agrees. “There is no demand based supply of genuine pesticides in line with agricultural advice, prescriptions and safety trainings.”
Pesticide usually expires after two years of manufacturing, after which it must be disposed of. But in Ethiopia, usually pesticides with very short expiry dates are imported. “It reaches the farmer after it has already turned bad,” says Bekele.

Isayas Kebede, general manager of Agri-CEFT, stresses that nobody has understood the severity and multidimensional nature of the problem. “Regulation and control of both legally imported and smuggled agrochemicals is almost non-existent. As a result, the cost of unsafe and outdated chemicals far outweighs its contribution to agricultural productivity.”

Besides its negative effect on agricultural productivity, counterfeit and expired pesticides are very toxic to humans. Many pesticides have globally been associated with health and environmental issues. Among the numerous negative health effects of chemical pesticides, gastrointestinal, neurological, carcinogenic, respiratory, reproductive, and endocrine effects, are among the major ones.

Gebrekidan Asresahegn, director of the Plant Health and Production Quality Directorate at the MoAF, admits that the pesticide sector is out of control, mainly due to limited capacity and a lack of government attention. “Although the MoAF is regulatory body it has no power to react. The sector is vast, but we have not been able to implement laws, support the private sector or create awareness among farmers.”

Bekele cautions that there are too many obsolete pesticides and dangerous chemicals in Ethiopia, which imported irresponsibly, due to weak regulation and control, explaining, “I do not think the amount of imported pesticides is too much but the damage is imminent, because of weak management.”

According to the World Health Organisation, over 30Pct of the pesticides marketed in developing countries do not meet internationally accepted quality standards. The problem is particularly widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, where quality control is weakest.

Obsolete pesticides, which are stocked and can no longer be used for their original purpose or any other purpose require proper disposal, a costly process that needs proper facilities. In Ethiopia, approximately 1,600 tons of obsolete insecticides are stored countrywide, according to MoAF.

Gebrekidan says that the current accumulation of outdated chemicals in Ethiopia is at an alarming point. “There are dangerous chemicals in many places in the country. People are highly at risk because the simplest disposal equipment are absent in Ethiopia.”

Recently, the MoAF finalized a disposable pesticide inventory across Ethiopia. “We have already started repacking the chemicals in the states of Gambela and Oromia, making them ready to export to where they can be disposed of properly,” said Gebrekidan.

Along with independent researchers, the MoAF also prepared a document which describes how to dispose of harmful chemicals domestically. “We submitted a proposal to the government two years ago to establish a Pesticide Control Authority. They accepted it this year. A bid has already been floated for the design and construction of a lab,” explains Gebrekidan.

Disposing of harmful chemicals and improving the involvement of the private sector to produce pesticides domestically is needed to solve the problems, according to stakeholders. But due to the absence of policy and strategy, many companies are struggling to start local production. “Many companies are in the trial process to get licensed to produce locally,” says Gebrekidan.

Andualem Tadesse, owner of Agvet Chemicals is currently trying to get a license. He submitted a proposal to open a pesticide factory two years ago, along with product details and an agreement document with a Chinese company. The next step was to bring samples and test them in a lab. “But I didn’t succeed, although I’ve been trying to get a license for the past two years,” Andualem tells EBR.

“Issuing a license takes a minimum of three years,” explains Gebrekidan. “Since we have no lab facilities it is difficult to test samples in a short period of time.”

However, Usman Surur, director general of the Federal Cooperative Agency, says the government must change its policy, in order to encourage the private sector to start local production. “So far, local production of pesticides and other chemicals is under a government monopoly, in order to ensure control.”

Imported pesticides can be replaced by local production, according to Usman. “The technology is out there, and patents are accessible. We do not have to start from scratch. We can simply catch-up by copying the technology.”
A directive that governs local pesticide manufacturing and repacking has almost been finalized, according to Gebrekidan.

8th Year • Apr.16 – May.15 2019 • No. 73

Ashenafi Endale

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