Botswana is one of the countries in Africa that are struggling to dispose obsolete pesticides which are a danger to the environment and pose a health risk to the population.
The main problem is caused by farmers who keep stocks of pesticides and seeds until their shelf life expires and dump them at the Ministry of Agriculture which has a storage facility for them.
The storage facilities are in Gaborone, Maun and Kasane and are said to have a significant numbers of pesticides wastes. In an interview with The Patriot on Sunday senior Scientific Agricultural Officer Collen Mbereki said they are struggling to dispose pesticides waste as it is expensive to destroy them. “Currently we have over 30 tons of seeds which were returned by farmers and have passed their shelf life and we have kept them here as we are trying to find ways of disposing them,” he said.
Asked why they can’t plant them or burn them, Mbereki said that it is too dangerous as pesticides have been used to protect them, which if planted might destroy some microorganisms in the soil which is an environmental hazard. He said it is important for farmers to avoid using expired seeds as the chemicals used to protect them would have changed their chemical composition. Mbereki noted that the only solution is to take them to an incinerator in the United Kingdom for them to be burned which he said it is too costly as one tonne costs around US$ 4700 excluding shipping costs.
He advised farmers to utilize all the seeds by planting them and must not give them to their livestock as they are poisonous. Another problem is pesticides containers which they collect from farmers and their main challenge is that most of them are not cleaned. “Before they can bring them here they must cleanse them so that ours will just be to store and cut them for shipment but now they are complicating our work here,” said the worried Mbereki.
Last year they shipped 20 tonnes of obsolete pesticides to United Kingdom and removed 80 centimeters of contaminated top soil at the storage centre to be destroyed.
Obsolete pesticides are pesticides that are unfit for further use or for re-conditioning. Obsolescence may arise because a product has been de-registered locally or banned internationally. More commonly, however, a stock of pesticides becomes obsolete because of long-term storage during which the product and/or its packaging degrade. According to Mbereki most of the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are not from government but from farmers who buy pesticides in excess and keep the unused ones. He called on farmers to utilize all the chemicals they use in their farming daily businesses.
In 2002 FAO estimated that the toxic waste in Africa alone amounted to around 120,000 of the more than 500,000 tons worldwide. FAO previously estimated the amount in Africa at around 50,000 tons, with about 30 per cent of the waste believed to be POPs. Through the funding from the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) through the project called ‘Environmentally Sound and Sustainable Management of Obsolete Pesticides in Southern Africa’ managed to complete an inventory of farmer held obsolete. This led to the discovery of 42 tonnes of obsolete stocks from farmers and government. In 2003 319.5 tonnes of wastes was disposed of at a cost of US$ 1,125,000 which was done in UK.
Currently all the chemical wastes are destroyed in Europe as they are the only ones with incinerators for pesticides and allow their importation into their region. Asked why Botswana does not build her own incinerator, Mbereki said it will not be cost effective as the local waste is not much. He said that currently even European incineration facilities are operating at under capacity, so prices are competitive. “They are very big and expensive to construct and our waste is far less and we cannot try to bring other waste from our region as it can be a health hazard to our environment,” he said.
A visit to the storage facility midweek showed that it has been vandalized and Mbereki said that it is worrisome as they store dangerous chemicals which can not only be a danger to the criminals but the nation at large. “Right now some have stolen the corrugated iron which was used at the open space storage facility thus exposing the dangerous chemicals to the environment,” he said, adding that some steal containers and sell them to unsuspecting public.
He said that they have tried to beef up the security by putting electric fence but criminals cut them off. Most of the containers which most people use to store water are said to be dangerous.
Currently Ministry of Agriculture has partnered with Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and has embarked on a project for decontamination of POPs contaminated soils using non-thermal treatment methods. The project started in 2011 and is expected to finish in October 2015. Its aim is to reduce the risk to public health and the environment from pesticides through the characterization, treatment and decontamination of POPs and POPs contaminated soils.