By Richard Johnson
Twelve countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia have agreed to start working with the European Union (EU) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations to manage their huge stocks of obsolete pesticides in a partnership that was launched at FAO’s headquarters in Rome on April 12, 2012.
An estimated 200 000 tons of obsolete pesticides – nearly half the world’s stockpiles – can be found in twelve former Soviet Union republics. Kept in tens of thousands of unprotected sites, they pose a serious threat to the health of the people around them and to the environment.
For the next four years, the EU and FAO will invest €7 million to assist these countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan – in managing obsolete pesticides and reducing the risks of current stocks. At the same time, the project will build capacity to reduce risks from pesticides used in agriculture and avoid build-up of additional stockpiles in future.
“In the past decades, we were able to increase food production significantly, but at a huge toll on the environment,” said José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of FAO. “One of the consequences of this chemical-input, intensive agriculture we adopted are the barrels of obsolete pesticides lying abandoned around the world.
“Pesticides may be an important input for farming, but they need to be used responsibly while protecting human health and the environment from their adverse effects. In our quest for sustainability and to meet the challenge of feeding a growing population while preserving our environment, we also need to take a good look at the different options we have to protect crops and improve productivity.
This includes using natural means to protect and improve crop yields through sustainable crop intensification, or ‘save and grow’ techniques as we call it at FAO,” Graziano da Silva added.
“The EU has an established policy dialogue and co-operation on environment related issues with its eastern neighbours and Central Asian partners,” said the EU Ambassador Laurence Argimon-Pistre.
“In its new Neighbourhood Policy, the EU will continue to pursue a higher level of environment protection with its eastern partners and be committed to combat environmental degradation,” she added. “This includes obsolete pesticides and other hazardous chemicals, whose environmental and health risks are not only at stake for the region but also for the EU.”
The EU is contributing €6 million to the initiative, and FAO, which is to act as implementing agency, has allocated €1 million in funding. This initiative aims to act as a catalyst for the development of obsolete pesticide and hazardous waste management in the region, by helping provide the resources needed for technical and policy support to enable countries to help themselves.
According to a FAO press release, although activities will include the actual disposal of stockpiles, the priority lies in building capacities, for example in the areas of legislative reform, pesticide registration processes, the promotion of alternatives to the most hazardous chemicals in use and the development of communication strategies to raise awareness among farmers and the public.
Another important goal is to establish a regional forum geared to the mobilisation of the additional resources needed for full-scale clean-up and the constitution of a region-wide system capable of dealing with future challenges posed by pesticides. Other cross-cutting activities include a survey of regional waste management capacity and the creation of a regional training centre.
Key to achieving the overall aim of removing toxic materials from the region is the development of linkages between initiatives already active to ensure that all partners are working together.
In this initiative, FAO and the EU are working together with partners such as WHO, UNEP, the Secretariats of the Convention of Rotterdam, Stockholm and Basel, international NGOs, including the Green Cross and the International HCH and Pesticide Association and the private sector, among others.
Meanwhile, United Nations experts have recommended that two pesticides, one severely hazardous pesticide formulation and three industrial chemicals be added to a trade “watch list” under a UN-backed treaty aimed at helping poorer countries more effectively manage potentially harmful imported substances.
The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade is designed to ensure that hazardous chemicals do not endanger human health and the environment but inclusion on the list is not a recommendation for an international ban or severe restriction of the use of the substance.
It is the first time since the Convention entered into force in 2004 that the Chemical Review Committee has recommended adding a severely hazardous pesticide formulation to the watch list, according to a joint news release by the FAO and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), both of which support the Convention.
The formulation – Gramoxone Super – is an herbicide containing paraquat dichloride, which is used to control weeds in cotton, rice and maize. Burkina Faso had proposed including it to the list due to the problems experienced with its use in that country.
FAO’s Peter Kenmore, Co-Executive Secretary of the Rotterdam Convention, said the addition of this severely hazardous pesticide formulation advances efforts to ensure that “countries’ rights to know and trade chemicals safely are respected.”
The two pesticides recommended for inclusion are endosulfan and azinphos methyl, while the three industrial chemicals are perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), its salts and precursors; pentaBDE commercial mixtures; and octaBDE commercial mixtures.
PentaBDE and octaBDE commercial mixtures are brominated flame retardants. Due to their toxicity and persistence, their industrial production is set to be eliminated under the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs).
“The recommendation to include these three industrial chemicals marks an acceleration in the rate of submission of industrial chemicals to the CRC for review of these substances known to harm human health and the environment,” said Donald Cooper, Co-Executive Secretary of the Rotterdam Convention.
The recommendations will be forwarded to the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention in June 2012.