Wearing white personal protective equipment, that is cover alls, full face masks with chemical filters and shoe covers, the journalists looked like scientists ready to go on an expedition to the moon.
But they were not. They were on a press tour to the Africa Stockpiles Programme’s obsolete pesticides collection centres. They needed the protective gear to enter the restricted areas where hazardous obsolete pesticides are stored.
At the Morogoro National Housing godown area, where obsolete pesticides from the Central Zone are stored, the warning sign board hangs at the gate for everyone to see. People and animals are not allowed to enter the fenced area.
This is the Central Zone collection centre where obsolete pesticides and contaminated soils from Morogoro, Dodoma and Singida are stored ready for shipment to be destroyed in the UK.
Inside the restricted area, an excavator dug and moved the heavily contaminated soil where the pesticides had been buried years ago. The excavator put the soil in the white bags which were weighed and labeled by workers also in white protective gears.
A few metres away, near the fence, several white containers with contaminated soil were lined up ready to be packed in a container for shipment.
“There is a lot of contaminated soil here. The pesticides were buried here for unknown reasons and so the soil is contaminated. This is why we are collecting it so it can be shipped for disposal,” Alfred Msokwa, the Field Manager at the Morogoro collection site told the journalists.
According to him, the whole process of disposing of a single tonne of the contaminated soil from digging it up, packing and transporting it currently costs around USD 4000.
“The obsolete pesticides and associated waste including heavily contaminated soils can not be destroyed here, first, because we do not have the required facilities to do so. Secondly, it would not be safe for the environment,” said Msokwa. He said the pesticides and contaminated soil at the Morogoro collection centre came from big farms and government agriculture offices in Morogoro, Dodoma and Singida.
By the end of this year, about 700 tones of obsolete pesticides in the country will be transported for destruction together with 300 tonnes of heavily contaminated soil. Over 1000 tonnes of soil in the country is contaminated but not all will be destroyed (at once) due to shortage of funds.
The cleaning up exercise is being carried out by the National Environment Management Council (NEMC) under the Africa Stock Piles Programme (ASP)-Tanzania project.
The major aim of the project is to clean up and dispose of obsolete pesticides and associated waste as well as put in place mechanisms to prevent future accumulations.
The ASP is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and other multilateral donors through the World Bank.
According to Samuel Msangi, ASP-Tanzania National Project Coordinator, the World Bank through GEF has injected USD 6.8m into the project which ends at the end of this year. The government’s in kind contribution is USD 390,000.
The destroying exercise takes place abroad because Tanzania, like the rest of Africa has no high temperature incineration facilities for such hazardous wastes. “There is no such facility in the whole of Africa. Only five companies in Europe have such facilities,” says Msangi.
The disposal exercise will be done by the UK based Veolia Es which won the disposal tender and signed the disposal service contract in March.
The obsolete pesticides include DDT among others which had been brought in for agriculture but was later banned for use in agriculture.
The 2004 Stockholm Convention outlawed several Persistent Organic Pollutants and restricted the use of DDT to vector control. “This is why it is being disposed,” said Arnold Kisiraga, ASP-Tanzania field manager at the Coast Zone collection site at Vikuge in Kongowe.
Apart from the DDT ban which rendered it useless and therefore deteriorating with time, other reasons that led to the accumulation of the obsolete pesticides over the past 40 years include inappropriate procurement through central purchasing. This led to unwanted stocks as farmers could not use them either due to timing of purchases, pack sizes, poor labeling or lack of suitable application equipment.
Delays in moving the pesticides from the warehouses to farmers resulted in missed application and unused quantities at the end of the season. Inadequate storage and stock management also led to accumulation and obsolescence.
Another reason for the pile ups is the fact that sometimes donations came in excess and so the farmers had more pesticides than they needed.
A countrywide identification exercise of publicly held obsolete pesticides stocks and associated waste was done by NEMC in 1997/98. Over 1000 metric tonnes of obsolete pesticides were identified. Since the government was not financially capable of destroying these, it made an appeal for assistance from the international donor community during the third FAO Consultation on Prevention and Disposal of Obsolete Pesticides Stocks held in Rome in March 1998.
Tanzania was included among the first seven countries to benefit from the financing through the Africa Stockpiles Programme. The other six countries under the first phase of ASP are Ethiopia, South Africa, Mali, Morocco, Tunisia and Nigeria.
The overall objective of the ASP project in Tanzania is to assist the government in disposing and safeguarding inventoried publicly held obsolete pesticide and associated waste. It also aims at developing a strategy for sustainable management of future accumulations.
Before NEMC built stores around the country, these accumulated pesticides used to be kept outside and during heavy rains, some would be washed away into rivers. Not only did the water get contaminated, but the soils too. In some places, the vegetation was also affected. NEMC intervened by building 135 stores countrywide for storing the obsolete pesticides.
The obsolete pesticides collected throughout the country are stored at six collection zones namely Coast, Central, Arusha, Nzega, Mbeya and Kibiti and Mahonda (in Zanzibar).
“During the identification of the publicly held obsolete pesticides, people were not ready to show us where they were,” says Kisiraga. He says soil in many areas is contaminated and calls upon those living in restricted areas with contaminated soil to wait for directions from experts before using the soil for agriculture. He also advises pesticides users to be very careful and follow experts’ advice.
According to Msangi, the ASP-Tanzania coordinator, all the obsolete pesticides and associated wastes will have been removed by December if all goes according to plan.
Last week, agriculture stakeholders met in Morogoro to review the 1997 Plant Protection Act and the Pesticides Management Act to see if there are any loopholes, so the laws can be improved in a bid to prevent future accumulations of obsolete pesticides.
George Mandepo, a lawyer with the agriculture ministry says there are many laws that control pesticides management. He said these laws have weaknesses and “this is why we are reviewing them. We have many institutions supervising the management of pesticides such as registration of pesticides importers, how to destroy them when they expire… we have seen weaknesses in the supervision of pesticides… we are now looking into the possibility of having all pesticides issues handled by a single institution,” Mandepo said.
He said this would help release the burden on the government and that the control of pesticides will be made easier. It will also help the government to comply with international obligations on pesticides control.
When NEMC finally manages to destroy the obsolete pesticides stock piles, we will be sure of having no more accumulations now that the government no longer involves itself in the importation of agricultural inputs. Currently, the inputs are brought in by agents who only make purchases depending on demand.
Farmers are advised to always purchase the amount of pesticides they need to avoid accumulations which could with time lead to obsolescence.
The cleaning up exercise being done by NEMC under the ASP project will result into a clean environment, clean water sources, improved public health and enhanced livestock and fauna feeding in clean and safe pasture free from pesticide contamination among many others.