Farmers bear the brunt of unregistered, fake agrochemicals

26 Nov, 2023 - 00:11 0 Views
Farmers bear the  brunt of unregistered,  fake agrochemicals FARMING

The Sunday News

Judith Phiri , Features Reporter

Imagine waking up to your tomato plants on two hectares all withered and damaged by something you thought was the solution to a problem you intended to solve.

This was the case for 26-year-old Miss Sizalokuhle Moyo of Montgomery in the sprawling Umguza District, Matabeleland North province.

Unknowingly, her tomato plants were sprayed with a counterfeit pesticide, while trying to protect them against Red Spider Mite attack.

“Red Spider Mites are a major pest in tomatoes; they can ruin the tomato plant to the greatest extent as they colonise mainly the underside of the leaves and suck plant juices severely.

“One morning, I asked my mother who had travelled to Bulawayo to bring me a pesticide for my tomato plants which I usually use. I showed her the bottle before she left. Apparently, she found the agrochemicals shops closed because she finished her errands late and it was a Saturday and shops close early on Saturdays. While buying vegetables at the market, she saw people selling a similar product and she bought that.”

Miss Moyo, who wasn’t feeling well on a Sunday morning, tasked her brother to spray the tomato plants with the pesticide, only to wake up to a total disaster the next day. She said she got the shock of her life when all her plants were totally damaged and there was no hope for their revival.

“They literally went from 100 percent to zero and there was no hope. On trying to diagnose the problem, we realised that the pesticide we used was a counterfeit. We no longer trust these people who sell outside shops and only opt for the registered agrochemicals dealers,” she said.

This is just the tip of the iceberg to some of the challenges farmers come across after using counterfeit pesticides that decrease their yields or damage their crops, which can drive up consumer food prices.

Unregulated chemicals from fake agrochemicals can be harmful not only to crops but they can also enter the food chain with unknown effects on ecosystems and human health, according to health experts.

Another farmer from Concession in Mazowe District, Mashonaland Central province, Mr Hilton Chidhakwa said he almost fell for the same trap.

“Due to the high cost of inputs, I thought small shops may be cheaper since most of them buy products for resale from outside the country. Little did I know that they can be fake. I bought these inputs at a local small agro-shop opposite the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) in Harare, went to my farm and stocked my herbicides as I waited for the rainy season. When it came, I planted and when I was about to dilute the herbicides, I looked at the seal and the container and everything was okay.”

He said when he poured the first 200 millilitres (ml) into a boom spray, he had to stop as the colour of the chemical was not the one he is used to.

Mr Chidhakwa said it was more of water with little foam. When he opened four five-litre bottles of the chemical, to his surprise, all the bottles were fake.

“I returned them back to the shop in Harare all the way from Concession having to part with more money for transport. As farmers, the impacts of fake agro-inputs such as herbicides and chemicals are enormous on our agricultural activities.

“At an agricultural production level, such pesticides can severely damage crops, resulting in a decreased yield or destroying a field. They also pose severe health risks to us as farmers through exposure during application, while the residue of unknown and untested substances in foods can negatively affect consumers’ health.”

Mr Chidhakwa said the use of fraudulent pesticides also has environmental consequences as active substances and other constituents used in counterfeit and illegal pesticides contain highly toxic impurities, which can pose a risk to the water and soil quality and the health of biodiversity.

He said the production of fraudulent pesticides may subvert environmental regulations, leading to the production processes and waste contaminating the land, air, and water.

“I was affected in the sense that I lost out on productivity time which I could never recover since I had to go back to Harare. In the process, I had to part with money I had not budgeted for and use it for transport. I thank God I was refunded and I made sure I went to a registered supplier to acquire the chemicals,” he narrated.

Last year in November, at least 400 hectares of irrigated tobacco were severely damaged countrywide after farmers used fake chemicals on their crop, industry officials said. On average, one hectare produces at least four tonnes of tobacco if farmers use the recommended agronomic practices.

As an intervention, the Government deployed liaison, pesticide approval and plant health services officers to assess the damage caused by the use of these chemicals.

Early this month, Department of Research and Specialist Services chief director Dr Dumisani Kutywayo revealed that banned products were being smuggled into the country. He said the Fertilisers, Farm Feeds and Remedies Institute (FFRI) would soon be issuing inspectors at the country’s ports of entry with transit permits to enable them to monitor all trucks in transit so that they do not dump their products under Statutory Instrument (SI) 167 that bans imports of unregistered or fake agrochemicals into the country.

“Government is trying so hard to tighten these loop holes through deploying inspectors to man the entry points with the help of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra). Awareness campaigns are also being conducted nationwide at agriculture shows, field days and various farmer field schools (FFS).

“According to Statutory instrument (SI) 144 of 2012 no agro-dealer is allowed to import or sell unregistered products. All products should be labelled according to the regulatory standards of Zimbabwe,” said Dr Kutywayo.

In an interview, Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development’s Permanent Secretary Professor Obert Jiri urged farmers to desist from acquiring agro-inputs from non-registered agro-dealers.

“Farmers should be on high alert and verify the chemical’s name, trade name and company distributor, while also seeking further clarity where possible from agricultural experts. Also, farmers should make use of the Agritex extension officers to get more information so that they avoid being accustomed to using the banned agrochemicals,” he said.

Prof Jiri said the Government has upped the fight against the use of banned agro-chemicals by deploying inspectors. The Permanent Secretary said the use of delisted chemicals will weigh heavily on the agriculture sector and result in some crops being rejected on the market.

“Our clarion call to farmers is that they must not buy inputs or agrochemicals from undesignated sources but certified agro-dealers and retail outlets only. We have tasked the Department of Research and Specialist Services to conduct spot checks of agro-dealer shops and retail outlets to enforce compliance to regulations of trading in agrochemicals in line with SI 167 that empowers them to effectively enforce the legislation,” he added.

Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) Matabeleland region vice-president Mr Mackenzie Dongo said the presence of fake or uncertified agrochemicals on the local market was an unhealthy situation that requires urgent attention.

“Such agrochemicals may be hazardous to the environment, crops and even human beings. Due to the porous borders, uncertified or fake agrochemicals are finding their way into the country through informal channels and unscrupulous means. If farmers are not careful, yields and soils will be negatively affected and the effects can be sustained into the long run.

Also, local producers of agrochemicals, most of whom are esteemed members of the ZNCC are negatively affected by this development in that their genuine and certified products are now competing with unauthorised products in our local retail shops or in the informal market. This points to a similar situation obtaining in the clothing retail sector.”

Mr Dongo said to curb the anomaly, the first point was farmer education and awareness campaigns to ensure they avoid the counterfeit products already on the market.

Mr Dongo said farmers were urged to buy only certified agrochemicals, be it by the Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ), or the Southern African Development Community Accreditation Service (Sadcas), among other recognised certification bodies.

“As a long-term solution, border management should be enhanced to curb illicit flows of goods across borders. The security forces should modernise border management systems to include drones that can monitor movements along the borderlines to some significant distance of say, 200 kilometres or more.

Of course, there has to be an arrangement with bordering countries for this to work,” he said.

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