How do I use pesticides

Dangerous German pesticides for Africa

The Hillside citrus farm is located in the Eastern Cape, in a heavily agricultural region of South Africa. Rows of green trees stretch across the red-brown fields - there is the best climate for growing citrus fruits, which are also intended for the European market. But the green idyll is deceptive: According to a recent study by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Misereor and Inkota Network, the use of pesticides causes great damage to people and the environment here and on other farms in the country.

Hazardous active ingredients in use

According to the publication, a farm worker from Zimbabwe was hit hard on the Hillside plantation three years ago: When he was spraying pesticides on the soil with the tractor, a gust of wind blew the chemicals directly into the open driver's cab. The migrant worker suffered acute lung poisoning and was hospitalized for several weeks. According to the study, he had inhaled the herbicide Treevix, the active ingredient of which saflufenacil is not approved in the EU. The manufacturer is BASF.

For the report, farm workers on three plantations in the Eastern Cape were asked about the use of pesticides. In addition to South Africa, the study authors also researched in Brazil. Specifically, they accuse the chemical groups BASF and Bayer of selling pesticides and the active ingredients contained therein, which are banned in the EU.

Pesticide sales are growing rapidly

"Bayer and BASF always refer to the supposed safety of their products, but that is a myth," says Jan Urhahn, agricultural expert at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and co-author of the study. "A lack of education and protection are the reality in Africa. Corporations trample on human rights every day". The pesticide trade has exploded in recent years. The attempts by African governments to transform smallholder structures into industrial agriculture are responsible for this.

Bayer pesticides in South Africa: demand has risen sharply

German chemical companies are also benefiting from the increased demand for pesticides in Africa. According to Urhahn, Germany is the second largest exporter of pesticide active ingredients worldwide. South Africa is also of particular importance to Bayer and BASF - not only as a sales market, but also as a production site from which a number of other countries are supplied. But why not at least restrict the export of active ingredients that are banned in the EU? "The point is quite banally to secure the profit interests of two of the largest German companies," believes Urhahn.

Approval practice varies

According to the study, the fact that Bayer and BASF are marketing dangerous pesticides in the global south that are not even allowed to circulate in the EU contributes to the frightening fact that 99 percent of deaths from pesticide poisoning occur in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Reasons for the particularly frequent poisoning in countries of the global south are low-threshold approval procedures, a lack of information about the dangerousness of the active substances contained and often inadequate occupational safety.

Do BASF and Bayer apply double standards when marketing their pesticides? Both companies reject the allegations against DW. Dirk Hartmann, Director of the Crop Protection Africa and Middle East Department at BASF, explains in an interview with DW that crop protection products are developed for a specific regional "situation and culture". This leads to the fact that the approvals in the countries differ. In addition, all active ingredients that BASF uses in its crop protection products are approved in at least one OECD country.

Bayer plant in Nigel, South Africa

Holger Elfes, spokesman for the Crop Science department at Bayer, also referred to DW about the different requirements in different regions of the world - a current example is the locust plague in East Africa. Such differences explain why Bayer sells crop protection products in some countries that are not permitted elsewhere. Like BASF, Bayer also cites approval in at least one OECD country as a criterion for global marketing of active pesticide ingredients.

Biopesticides as an alternative

Silke Bollmohr, managing director of the environmental consultancy Eco-Trac Consulting in Kenya, accuses BASF and Bayer of double standards - even if it is legally okay to market pesticides in Africa that are not permitted in the EU. A few years ago, Eco-Trac Consulting demonstrated in a study for Kenya that appropriate funds are also being used there. According to Bollmohr, the problem is that in many countries in the global south the pesticide market is completely opaque, there is a lack of a publicly accessible database of the pesticides used, and in many places the approval criteria are simply not strict enough.

Smallholders in Kenya: Minimize the use of pesticides overall?

Bollmohr therefore calls for the federal government to take action: "According to the German Plant Protection Act, there is the option of prohibiting exports by ordinance if this is necessary to protect people, animals and nature." Such a ban already exists in France, where the manufacture, storage and global marketing of pesticide products that are not authorized in the EU have been criminalized since 2018.

At the same time, alternatives on site must also be considered, emphasizes Bollmohr. Many smallholders are already successfully using natural substances such as chilli and garlic. Biopesticides are also available, but more expensive. Jan Urhahn from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation also emphasizes that farmers should generally minimize the use of pesticides so that the ecological basis is preserved over the long term. Otherwise there is a risk that farmers would become dependent on the corporations because they would have to apply more and more artificial fertilizers, pesticides and hybrids - a vicious circle that could ultimately become a debt trap for the farmers.