Developing countries in the Asia Pacific region are in danger of an overwhelming Pesticide Tsunami with serious health and ecological implications, a leading Asian entomologist warns.
Countries that lack laws and regulations for pesticide marketing and use are open to ‘South-South dumping’ of hazardous agrochemicals from elsewhere in the developing world itself.
In recent years, China has become the world’s largest producer of pesticides, with most of its output being exported to developing countries in Asia and Africa.
“Unless (developing Asian) countries develop mechanisms to protect themselves, this Pesticide Tsunami is going to hit them hard. We urgently need to build self (country-level) protection,” said Dr Kong Luen "K.L." Heong, Principal Scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in Los Banos, Philippines.
He called for developing country governments to play a stronger governance role “to ensure quality information and pesticide prescriptions for farmers”.
He was speaking at a regional workshop in Bangkok in January 2013 to plan the distributing of Hopper Race, the latest documentary produced by TVE Japan which looks at rice planthopper threats to rice production in Asia.
Analysing statistics from China’s Institute for the Control of Agrochemicals, Ministry of Agriculture (ICAMA), Dr Heong showed how pesticide production in China has more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2009 – from around 500,0000 metric tons to over 2 million metric tons. In that time, domestic use of pesticides has shown only a very modest increase, which means most of it is now being exported by China.
“It goes to countries that have lesser controls. It will not go to Australia, or Europe, or the United States for sure. Where else would it go? The developing world,” Dr Heong said in an interview with TVEAP Director Nalaka Gunawardene.
He said that that United Nations FAO statistics for the past few years show pesticide imports into developing countries have escalated.
“We are not (well) aware of…South-South dumping! We in Southeast Asia know this now. What about Africa? There is a mechanism going on that is dominating the pesticide sales there, and it is worrying,” he said.
He added: “We cannot control the exports by another country. But we can all control the imports into our own countries! So it’s all about individual countries having to act in their own defence.”
|“We cannot control the exports by another country. But we can all control the imports into our own countries! So it’s all about individual countries having to act in their own defence.”
Dr Heong emphasized the critical role of governance in strengthening defences against the pesticide tsunami: Sound policies, adequate laws and regulations and their enforcement.
“This is deadly poison we are talking about! I feel strongly that the poison should not be sold like toothpaste in the open market. And that is key: governments should either revive their laws or implement the laws (for better regulation),” he says.
In his view, registering importers of agrochemicals and licensing trade is inadequate. Agrochemicals are currently peddled by assorted salespersons and vendors who have no certification, supervision or accountability.
“Most subsistence rice farmers across Asia simply ask the nearest local traders for crop protection advice – and these vendors promote whatever they have in stock, or whichever brand that gives them highest margins of profits,” Dr Heong noted.
Instead, developing countries should introduce regulatory and certification systems similar to how pharmaceutical drugs are import and distributed. The medical and healthcare industries have their own certification schemes for doctors and pharmacists to ensure compliance with laws and regulations.
“We are dealing with a profession, and we are dealing with poison! Why are we not having a certification programme (for those peddling it)?” Dr Heong asked.
Malaysian-born Dr Heong, trained as an entomologist, has decades of experience in researching insect ecology in rice paddy fields across Asia. He has also studied the sociology of farmers’ decision making, and designed communication strategies for educating farmers on sustainable agriculture.
Read full interview
Photos courtesy: Dhara Gunawardene, TVE Asia Pacific Image Archive
& Rice Hopper blog, TVE Japan