Countries in East Africa are formulating formulating a common mechanism for handling agro-chemicals and pesticides amid hurdles in trade and concerns around health and environment safety.
Experts say the more countries in the region seek to boost agricultural productivity for both food security and export markets the more they increase reliance on external farm inputs. This creates a need for strong regulatory frameworks to curb potential disruption of the ecosystem.
They say existing systems of handling pest products at individual country levels are weak and in most cases importation and distribution of the pesticides lacks co-ordination.
Safety of agro-chemicals
EAC Partner States and stakeholders met in Kigali last week to make final recommendations for the region’s harmonised pesticide management guidelines, which are expected to be benchmarked against international standards.
Christophe Bazivamo, deputy secretary-general to the East African Community said with the free movement of goods under the customs union protocols, it was becoming increasingly difficult to ensure safety of agro-chemicals across borders.
He added that pesticide residue levels was compromising trade of the region’s agricultural commodities with markets in the European Union and Middle East.
“In order to develop an efficient, competitive and sustainable agriculture sector in East Africa, possible adverse effects of pesticides have to be minimised. This is also a pre-requisite for increasing the value and volume of agricultural exports from the region,” said Mr Bazivamo.
“Consumers and civil society organisations are concerned about the residues of pesticides in agricultural products in the market and this is a concern that we need to address,” he added.
The final draft legislation could be ready for approval by the partner states’ council of ministers in November as per the set timelines.
David Wafula, agriculture programme support specialist at the EAC Secretariat said upon ratification, the harmonised guidelines could also facilitate data generation and product registration by importers and distributors of pesticides in the region.
“Importers and distributors of pesticides who get approval in one partner state will get access to the other regional countries. This will improve farmers’ access to safe and effective products,” said Mr Wafula.
EAC member countries currently have different policies regarding handling of farm inputs like fertilisers, agrochemicals and pesticides.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, which facilitated the process of drafting the common guidelines, said the policies would address threats posed by trans-boundary pests like the fall armyworm. The pest invasion saw farmers use a variety of hazardous agro-chemicals.
Even as the region moves to harmonise the guidelines, concerns remain on provisions for emergency situations like the fall armywarm invasion and migratory pests, along with importation of pesticides for commercial or private use.
Proposals include allowing importation and use of products believed to be effective in controlling an outbreak pending an evaluation that would pave the way for the pesticides formal approval and subsequent registration.
“There has to be a mechanism to ensure that unregistered pesticides are handled safely, while we respond to emergencies,” said Alex Otut, who was part of the negotiating team for Uganda.
Otto Muhinda, the assistant FAO Representative in Rwanda said use of highly hazardous pesticides in East Africa needed to be reduced considerably or phased out where possible.
“A risk assessment of highly hazardous pesticides can be conducted at a regional level, and a study into low risk alternatives can be fast-tracked by establishing regional research programmes,” said Mr Muhinda.
He added that regulatory authorities collaborate because of the high human and financial resources required for technical evaluation on pesticides efficacy and risk assessment.