Nigeria’s pesticides: How poor law, regulation is breeding deaths 

Banned pesticides across Europe and the West find their way into the Nigeria’s agricultural space resulting in several deaths and great economy losses due to lack of laws and weak regulations; JOHN OBA reports

Hazardous pesticides

Statistics have shown that despite Nigeria oil wealth, agriculture still tops the chart as the backbone of the country’s economy. Agriculture in 2021 accounted for 26 per cent of the gross domestic products while the sector employed about 35 per cent of the active labour force.

As Nigeria’s population continues to rise, the demand for food has called for increased production which in turn results in the promotion of conventional agriculture that requires a higher degree of external inputs such as pesticides, herbicides, artificial fertilisers.

However, the use of pesticides and artificial fertiliser has resulted in negative health, environmental and economic hazards.

A report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) shows that Nigeria is the largest importer of pesticides in Africa spending $384 million in 2018 and importing over 147,477pesticdes in 2020.

According to experts, pesticide is a major public health and environmental threat in Nigeria and the World at large with over 385 million deaths caused by pesticides globally, mostly in Africa and the rest of the global South.

In Nigeria, there are no adequate data on the number of pesticides related deaths, except the 270 Nigerians that died in Benue state in 2020 due to Endosulfan (a pesticide with active ingredient classified as Highly Hazardous Pesticide (HHP) in the community river with no proper steps to seek compensation from the company responsible.  

AAPN survey

The Alliance for Action on Pesticide in Nigeria (AAPN) is a loose coalition of over 80 civil society organizations, farmers and farm input dealers’ associations, academia, researchers, media and interested members of the public research surveys, and sensitization activities in local communities.

Survey carried out in some villages in Nigeria reveals that more than 90 per cent of Nigerian farmers do not know the chemical they apply on their farms, and food eating consumers do not know the chemical in their food.

Research states further that most farmers do not read product labels on pesticide products (not necessarily, because they cannot read) and they are not aware of the various hazards associated with the pesticide’s active ingredient, because the health hazards are not disclosed in any way.

Most farmers according to the survey cannot apply the pesticides safely in the right quantity. This leaves a lot of pesticides residues in the soil, on surface water, in crops and invariably the human body, and over 80 per cent of farmers and their communities do not use personal protective equipment (PPEs), mainly because they are not sold in the many agrochemical stores or their distributors.

A vast majority of farming communities and villages in Nigeria don’t have functional hospitals and pharmacies, but have several unregistered and untrained agrochemical stalls.

Even though many of these farmers have a rich traditional background of traditional biological pest control methods, this knowledge is hardly applied as they prefer the quick use of chemicals.

Regulations

All these are feasible because of the lack of laws that govern the sector or the weak regulations occasioned by the financial interest of some of the agencies responsible for registration of the products.

Speaking during the press conference held in Abuja to reviews the NAFDAC Pesticide Registration Regulation 2021, and also highlights the gaps and threats in the proposed bills pushed forward by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), FISS Department (both the proposed bill to Establish a Pesticide Council 2021, and the Amendment of the Fertilizer Act of 2019, to include control of agrochemicals and pesticides), the AAPN Lead Coordinator, Mr. Donald Ikenna, noted that while the need to increase sensitization of farmers is highly important as well as expanding knowledge and practice of traditional pest control methods and IPM, there is even a more pressing need to push even further the relevant government regulatory agencies such as NAFDAC, NESREA, the Farm Input Support Services (FISS) and their mother Ministries of Health, Environment and Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) in the execution of their mandate.  

“With NAFDAC now admitting that over 40% of pesticide products registered in Nigeria are already banned in Europe due to their health and environmental impact, the Agency has now banned (1 product), phase-out (in 2 and 3 years – 21 products) and re-classify from farm to household use (44 products already banned in EU) on May 2, 2023. This is a scratch on the surface, but understandable given the very limited legal operation space NAFDAC has. 

“As of today, the number of chronic health diseases is on the rise in Nigeria. Cancer is becoming more prevalent among men, women and even children; with 72,000 deaths and 102,000 new cases annually. The 2022 Survey of AAPN and the SWOFON (Smallholder Women farmers Organizations of Nigeria) shows that 7 out of the most common 13 pesticide products, have active indigents that are linked to cancer or proven to be cancer causing.

“Pesticide active ingredients like Paraquat, Butachlor in pesticide products commonly used in Nigeria contain these active ingredients. Aside from the health cost, the economic losses from our food export rejections due to the presence of banned pesticides and unimaginable pesticide residue in food is alarming. 

Only profit

The Programme Officer, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) Mrs Joyce Brown, said the use and exposure to these Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) in Nigeria is not monitored, and regulated along with their quantities in the way they are applied.

“In more advanced countries, all of these pesticide active ingredients sold and used recklessly in Nigeria, are mostly banned or highly restricted such that they are never sold over the counter to ordinary citizens, or applied only by professionals who are trained and certified as pesticide applicators.

“This reality does not exist in Nigeria, as the proper framework to ensure that Nigeria does not become a dumping ground for agrochemical companies and developed countries who export that banned pesticide to the Global South is missing. There is an urgent need to improve the pesticide regulatory framework in Nigeria. 

“It must be said publically, that while the AAPN and other well-meaning Nigeria are striving to protect Nigerians and our environment from the adverse impact of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) and banned pesticides in Nigeria, there are other international and local vested interest whose aim are to make profits from the regulatory lacuna; taking advantage of the weak capacities in our government agencies and lobbying their way to push policies and laws that hopefully open Nigeria to easy pesticide entry.

NAFDAC’s incompetence

A Barrister with AAPN, Bar Oreoluwa, while punching holes in the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) regulation policy, said Section 2 (1) prohibits the use or importation of Pesticides not registered in Nigeria. The Section provides that- “A pesticide shall not be manufactured, formulated, imported, exported, advertised, sold, distributed or used in Nigeria unless it has been registered in accordance with the provision of these regulations”.

But according to her, the section does not take cognizance of the fact that banned pesticides that have been phased out in other jurisdictions may be presented for registration in Nigeria.

She therefore, recommended that a new subsection be introduced to accommodate the prohibition of registration of banned or phased out pesticides, adding that Tunisia, Mexico and Palestine have taken steps to stop the double standard, as they have passed laws stopping the import of pesticides banned in the exporting or manufacturing countries.

According to her, notwithstanding the defects pointed out in the extant Pesticide Registration Regulation and the recommendations made for the review/amendment of the regulation, it is expedient for NAFDAC to reform the entire pesticide registration process with a view to developing risk assessments based on Nigerian peculiar realities and consumption patterns and to step up to international best practices.

Among several other recommendations she made, she called on NAFDAC to expand the registration requirements to explicitly impose an obligation on manufacturers and importers of pesticides to provide safety precautions, equipment and first aid measures for its workers as applicable in other jurisdictions like Canada, Australia and India.

Pesticide bill

The Yam Farmer and Processors of Nigeria President, Professor Irtwange, faulted the FISS Bill, saying it appears to be a marketing bill aimed at quality control of fertilizers and agro-chemicals.

He said the Bill failed to address what a regulatory system should address, which is, to protect people and the environment from the harmful effects of pesticide use.

“The bill is designed to support the sale of pesticides and promotes safe use which is difficult in Nigeria due to application under high temperatures and high humidity, no use of protective clothing, faulty spray equipment (especially potentially leaking knapsack sprayers), lack of applicator knowledge about pesticides and their safe use, no readily available washing facilities, no easily available medical treatment facilities, and repeated applications within short timeframes,” he said.

Professor Johnson Ekpere said a new Pesticide Control Bill 2023 should be drafted with the primary aim of protecting the health of Nigerians, protecting their biodiversity and preventing foreign influence in the food sector.

According to Ekpere, such a bill must be drawn from international best practices – ensuring the safety of life, application of precaution, and openness in the pesticide approval process, ensuring informed consumer choices via full disclosure, and promoting integrated pest management (IPM) approach and safer farm practices, etc.

“The 2023 Bill should be put together by CSOs like AAPN and other consumer rights groups and experts in the food safety issues in Nigeria and presented to the new National Assembly and office of the Presidency.”

While Leader, Environmental Rights Action and Founder, Friends of the Earth Nigeria Barrister Mariamme Bassey, wondered why the there is a rush “if we are heading in the wrong direction”

She said the National Assembly should not consider any of the pesticide-related bills presented by the Farm Input Support Service (FISS) Department of FMARD, as they lack transparency, accountability, openness and zero public participation. The bills are not in the interest of Nigerians.

“Both bills are clearly surrendering Nigeria’s food sector to foreign control. Hence, there is a need to investigate the promoters of the Bill, as it can also be traced to treason – insisting on exposing the control of Nigeria’s food sector to foreigners whose goal is to make maximum profit,” she said.