Regulators must be alive to their responsibilities
While pesticides are vital to the production of healthy food crop, they must be safe and well-regulated for those using them not to die needlessly. We are concerned by latest reports that pesticides which contain toxic ingredients harmful to both humans and animals are still being imported and used in Nigeria. “Based on the research that we have done on pesticides in Nigeria, we have found that what is particularly concerning about the high use of pesticides in the country is that many of the pesticides that are being used especially by small-scale farmers are those that are in the category of highly toxic pesticides,” said Jochen Lucksheiter, director of Heinrich BÖLL Stiftung Foundation in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, this is a recurring challenge. Last year, a survey found that about 80 per cent of pesticides used by women in some Northcentral states in the country are highly toxic to humans and require additional regulation. The survey was conducted in Nasarawa, Benue, Plateau, and Abuja by Small Scale Women Farmers Organisation of Nigeria and Alliance for Action on Pesticide in Nigeria (AAPN) with support from a German Green Foundation. A similar report in 2021 by AAPN found that 40 per cent of all the pesticides used in Nigeria had been banned by the European Union (EU) due to high toxicity.
About 40% of the registered pesticides in Nigeria have been withdrawn from the European market, partly due to toxicity. This represents 57 active ingredients in 402 products that are still in use. Some of these, including carbofuran and diazinon, have been found in high levels in green vegetables. This has resulted in negative health, environmental and economic consequences in our country. Available reports indicate that 65 per cent of the active ingredients (26 out of 40) used by farmers in Nigeria as sampled in field studies are highly hazardous.
Because the global market for pesticides is highly lucrative, a few well-connected and influential agrochemical companies are expanding their control. At the forefront are European companies like Bayer and BASF. As the largest pesticide export market in the world, EU companies are now investing more in countries like Nigeria, where regulation is lax. Between 2015 and 2019 for instance, about 822 pesticides were registered in Nigeria by NAFDAC of which 515, about 63%, are classified as highly hazardous. China had the largest share of 50% followed by India. Also, between 2020 and 2021, Glyphosate, a kind of organophosphorus compound, holds the highest share of all imported hazardous pesticides. Data obtained confirm that the majority of imported and/or registered pesticides in Nigeria are not safe.
As of today, there is no government approved certifying body yet to standardise products and ensure compliance with the Organic Production system. Awareness or advocacy on organic agriculture must be raised to de-emphasise conventional agricultural practices. Organic agriculture should be inculcated into the educational curriculum. Specialised institutions involved in training for organic agriculture should be financially supported.
The federal government should facilitate access to certification services for pesticides in the country. The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) should immediately gazette the ‘Hazardous Pesticides Chemicals Regulation’ finalised by stakeholders two years ago. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture should also finalise the ‘National Organic Agriculture Policy for Nigeria’which has been formulated since 2019. Over and above all, the recent pronouncement by the African Union in the development of organic agriculture in the continent, should be implemented at both the national and local level.