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A new report on pesticide problems and regulatory concerns in Costa Rica, Tanzania and Vietnam recommends steps towards improved control and reduction of pesticide use. Prepared jointly by scientists, regulators in developing countries, NGOs and trade unions, it was addressed to the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (Sida). Barbara Dinham and George Ekström report.

Donor agencies have a crucial role to play in supporting governments, civil society and the international community to reduce pesticide hazards in developing countries. The report will encourage donors to play a more active role. The authors recommend specific actions to support national capacity building, and provide contact details for partnerships. 

30 years and no change?
Concerns raised over pesticides in developing countries thirty years ago are as much a reality today as then. Hazardous pesticides are still used with little or no protection. Application equipment is inadequately maintained, faulty or not even available. Most users have no access to washing facilities or, in the event of accidents, medical services. Illiteracy is still high in many rural areas and good reading skills are needed to interpret complex label instructions – even if they are written in the local language.

Governments in developing countries need to invest more in the skills required to interpret scientific and technical data and use it to make sound local risk assessments and to implement regulations. Resources for awareness raising are equally crucial: most users of pesticides in developing countries not only have a limited perception of the risks, but also a high acceptance of risk due to competing priorities essential for survival.

Estimated annual pesticide consumption by population groups 
Country and population group  Population (000)  Total pesticide consumption 
(tonnes a.i.)
Average pesticide  consumption(2)
Costa Rica
Total population 
Agricultural workers
Banana plantation workers 



Vietnam:total population  74,000  27,500  0.4
Tanzania: total population  27,000  9,3601  0.3
Total population 
Certified pesticide sprayers 
Non-agricultural population 



US: Total population  255,000  500,000  2
World: Total population  6,000,000  2,600,000  0.4 
1 1989-1992 average 2 (kg / a.i. per person per year)

Identifying problem pesticides
Several mechanisms exist for identifying problem pesticides. According to the Pesticides Manual, the most comprehensive compilation of technical data of pesticides on the market, 759 pesticides active ingredients are currently available(1). Of these, 595 have been assessed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for acute toxicity: 33 have been classified as extremely hazardous to human health (WHO Class Ia)(2), 48 as highly hazardous (Class Ib), 118 as moderately hazardous (Class II), and 239 as slightly hazardous (Class III). The FAO recommends that acute hazard categories Ia, Ib and preferably II, should not be used in developing countries. The European Union has classified 149 pesticides as ‘dangerous to the environment’(3). 

Two international processes have identified certain hazardous pesticides. The Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent (PIC), agreed by governments in 1998, included 22 (now 24) pesticides which are either widely banned or severely restricted, or which cause problems under conditions of use in developing countries(4). A treaty on ‘persistent organic pollutants’ (POPs) which is currently being negotiated(5) includes nine pesticides (and three other chemicals). A widely-supported ‘Dirty Dozen’ campaign, launched in 1985 by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), named most of these pesticides, and included a further two (aldicarb and paraquat).

Bans – a complex picture
Most countries now operate a pesticide registration scheme, or a ‘positive list’ of pesticides allowed to be used, although as mentioned above, implementation frequently presents problems. A general perception prevails that many pesticides are banned in Europe, North America or other industrialised countries, and then exported to developing countries. In fact, a relatively small number of pesticides are completely banned. The analysis of the regulatory actions taken in Costa Rica, Tanzania and Vietnam and the European Union against the 39 pesticides identified as most targeted, indicates a more complex picture. For example:

  • aldicarb is banned in Tanzania and not registered in Vietnam, but still registered in 10 EU countries and in Costa Rica;
  • monocrotophos, parathion and parathion methyl are registered in many European countries, but are all banned, severely restricted or not registered in Tanzania, Vietnam and Costa Rica;
  • chlorobenzilate, chlorpropham, fluoroacetamide, 2,4,5-T are still registered in some EU countries, but banned or not registered in Tanzania, Vietnam and Costa Rica;
  • aldrin, chlordane, DDT, EDB, dieldrin, heptachlor, HCH are banned in the EU, Costa Rica and Vietnam, but Tanzania allows restricted or severely restricted use of these products.

A global ban on some pesticides is urgently required, but will inevitably move slowly and cover a limited number (at present only the nine POPs pesticides may find agreement for a global ban and phase out on production and use) and even among these some exemptions may apply. Developing countries need good information about regulatory actions taken by governments with more resources to assess pesticides. It is important that they receive help in developing the capacity to implement regulation – including the ability to prevent import of pesticides which they have banned – and access to more and safer alternatives.

Lower usage – higher exposure
The approximate annual pesticide consumption by selected population groups in Costa Rica, Tanzania, Vietnam, compared with that in Sweden and the US is shown in the table. Statistically speaking, the average pesticide consumption in each country may seem similar: Sweden (0.2 kilogram per person per year), Tanzania (0.3) and Vietnam (0.4). The exposure to pesticides, however, may vary widely from one country to another and, within a given country, from one population group to another. 

Although developing countries account for only about 25% of pesticide consumption globally, use is growing rapidly. Their markets are generally dominated by insecticides, which have a higher acute toxicity than herbicides(6). Detailed information on pesticide use in developing countries is scarce. FAO has initiated a Database on Pesticide Consumption(7) but its development is at a very early stage.

Support country priorities
The priorities identified by Tanzania and Vietnam in their National Profiles(8,9) include: 

  • development of legal instruments and non-regulatory mechanisms (e.g. a national environmental policy);
  • inter-ministerial co-ordinating mechanisms;
  • awareness-raising activities;
  • financing for improved management;
  • maintenance of analytical instruments and laboratories.

The report provides contacts in bodies responsible for pesticide activities in each country, including those with responsibility for: approval and registration of pesticides; applied research; establishing national standards for maximum pesticide levels in food; monitoring residues in food; quality control of pesticide products; and liaison with international initiatives. All three countries have a Poisons Centre(10,11). A national association of pesticide manufacturers and importers has been established by industry in Costa Rica and Tanzania. Only Tanzania has a POPs focal point. By identifying specific contacts in each country, the report aims to facilitate discussions between stakeholders and policy makers in Costa Rica, Tanzania and Vietnam, and to pave the way for twinning and other collaborative arrangements between stakeholders in these countries and Sweden.

Initiatives for donor support
Without a basic legal, administrative infrastructure and a national funding mechanism, it is impossible for governments to control the distribution and use of pesticides in their countries, to guarantee safety to users within the country, to promote appropriate alternatives, and to meet international trade standards. However, the resources to monitor and implement regulation are equally crucial.

Based on the situation on the ground in Costa Rica, Tanzania and Vietnam, the recommendations in the report provide a comprehensive analysis of areas where development agencies could help to strengthen capacity in developing countries. 

A key recommendation is to view each country’s needs as a process, working with stakeholders through a National Forum. The National Profiles, following guidance established by the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) provide a good basis for action.(12) They are based on national consultations and identify country priorities including capacity building, training, visits of domestic or foreign experts, twinning and exchanges, facilitating Internet and E-mail access, and access to vital information. 

Other recommendations include:

  • assisting governments to take preventive action in relation to pesticide residues in food and drinking water;
  • supporting surveys of the standard of spray equipment in use and the capacity to maintain equipment(13);
  • assisting risk assessments on priority pesticides;
  • improving the technical capacity to monitor residues; 
  • supporting pesticide reduction through less hazardous alternatives, such as IPM, including supporting initiatives of the Global IPM Facility and other agencies which implement farmer participatory IPM training;
  • supporting the development and implementation of a strengthened International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides;
  • supporting implementation of the Rotterdam Convention, including establishing support for the Designated National Authority (DNA) to take import decisions(14); and the forthcoming Convention on POPs;
  • supporting initiatives for the disposal of obsolete stocks of pesticides, where funds are urgently required to help pay for clearance of globally-threatening legacies, and to prevent future accumulation;
  • supporting the establishment or strengthening of National Poisoning Surveillance Systems and Poisons Centres;
  • addressing the constraints on the telecommunications systems in order to improve links to rural areas and access to the Internet.

This collaborative report expresses a frustration with the lack of improvement at field level over the last 30 years, in spite of important national and international initiatives which improve knowledge of the regulatory approaches. 

The key recommendation is to suggest that government agencies (including public and occupational health, environment, and agriculture), research institutes, civil society and the international community (UN agencies, donors, pesticide industry) contribute to the work of a National Forum for action on pesticide hazards. In turn, the National Forum would form a liaison body with external centres such as the FAO, WHO, IFCS, international public interest NGOs, and other knowledgeable and experienced institutes. The report urges development agencies, and in particular Sida, to increase their allocation of resources to deal with pesticides problems and to promote the alternative approaches which would help reduce dependence on pesticides.

Multistakeholder Collaboration for Reduced Exposure to Pesticides in Developing Countries: Recommendations to Sida with Particular Reference to Costa Rica, Tanzania and Vietnam. Editor George Ekstrom (KEMI – National Chemicals Inspectorate, Sweden): contributors Jonathan Akhabuhaya (Tropical Pesticides Research Institute, Tanzania), Luisa Castillo (Central American Institute for Studies on Toxic Substances, Costa Rica), Barbara Dinham (Pesticide Action Network UK), George Ekstrom, Nguyen Huu Huan (Pesticides Control Center in the South, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Vietnam), Peter Hurst (International Union of Food and Agricultural, Workers, Switzerland), Sven-Erik Pettersson (Swedish Farm Workers Union, Sweden), Catharina Wesseling (Central American Institute for Studies on Toxic Substances, Costa Rica), Sweden, June 2000. The report is available on the PAN UK website (

1. CDS Tomlin (Ed), The Pesticide Manual – A World Compendium, Eleventh edition, British Crop Protection Council, 1997.
2. The WHO Recommended Classification of Pesticides by Hazard, and Guidelines to Classification 1998-1999, WHO/PCS/98.21, Geneva, 1998.
3. European Council Directive (67/548/EEC), and subsequent amendments. 
4. Rotterdam Convention, UNEP/FAO,, 1998.
5. UNEP Chemicals Newsletter 3(3), 1999. 
6. World Resources Institute, Intensification of Agriculture;
8. National Infrastructure for Management of Chemicals, Version 1, February 1997:
9. National Profile on Chemical Management in Vietnam, May 1997.
10. Yellow Tox: World Directory of Poisons Centres 1998,
11. Poison Control Centre database:
13. Contact: Theodor Friedrich at FAO, Email
14. Under the voluntary PIC procedure many countries nominated a Designated National Authority but were not able to take import decisions.

Barbara Dinham is Programme Director at PAN UK. George Ekström works for the, National Chemicals Inspectorate (KEMI), P.O.Box 1384 S-171 27 Solna, SWEDEN.



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