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FEATURE STORY April 21, 2021

How Mali is Eliminating Hazardous Pesticides


Excerpt from a comic handed out to raise awareness among Malian farmers and their families of the dangers of obsolete pesticides. Mali 



  • Agriculture is a key sector for the economy and food security in Mali, but the use of toxic products is a high risk for farmers and their families.
  • The Obsolete Pesticides Disposal and Prevention Project (OPDP) has treated hundreds of tons of dangerous products and served to tighten regulations.
  • An awareness campaign is training the population in safe practices.

DEMPELA, Mali, April 22, 2021— Zantié Dembélé, a farmer from the village of Dempela in the Sikasso region, saw 14 of his relatives fall ill from pesticide poisoning after eating millet treated with pesticides. “I needed millet before the end of the rainy season, so I bought some from a vendor. I asked if it was sprayed millet and I was told it wasn’t. So I gave the millet to the women who ground and cooked it.” In Mali, nearly 200 people die from pesticide poisoning every year and thousands contract diseases due to the intensive use of often-obsolete pesticides.

The Malian economy relies largely on its agricultural production. Although the use of pesticides is essential for the sound development of the sector and the economy in general, the country has a problem managing its obsolete fertilizers. A total of 580 tons of products have been found to be unfit for use, some of them dating back decades. Reselling these products is a lucrative business for thousands of young people who distribute them without being aware of the safety measures required and, often, the origin of the merchandise.

Nearly 80% of these obsolete pesticides are used in cotton growing. They pollute soil and water sources with disastrous effects on cattle and the food chain. Dozens of tons of pesticide packaging and residual waste are strewn throughout the country. Containers that held toxic substances are regrettably reused, often to store water.

An integrated approach to tackle the stockpiles

To address this danger, Mali and the World Bank developed an integrated stock management approach in 2007 to prevent stocks from building up, control imports and approve chemical inputs. This initiative was rounded out with training for pesticides agents and a public information campaign on the health risks.

The Africa Stockpiles Program (ASP Mali) set up a National Pesticides Management Committee and disposed of 65 tons of obsolete products and associated waste, identified and secured part of the stockpiles, and conducted pilot clean-up operations.

On the strength of these achievements, the World Bank and Mali set up the new Obsolete Pesticides Disposal and Prevention Project (OPDP Mali) with the support of the Global Environment Facility and Denmark. From 2014 to 2018, the project disposed of 532 tons of obsolete pesticides and toxic waste.

The resale of obsolete pesticides is a lucrative business in Mali, where 80% of these pesticides are used in cotton growing, polluting soil and water sources with disastrous effects on cattle and the food chain. Mali ©.

“These projects built the institutional, regulatory and technical capacities the sector needed to address environmental pollution and pesticide poisoning in communities,” notes Maria Sarraf, Practice Manager for the Environment in West Africa. “One of the keys to its success was to inform all users of the dangers and good practices in the use and repacking of these dangerous products.”

An environmental study located and took an inventory of contaminated sites and materials. A health risk assessment was also conducted of priority obsolete pesticides storage sites.

The government worked closely with the different operators holding stocks to prevent the build-up of products with a limited shelf life and manage flows. “Our obsolete stocks were destroyed,” explains Dr. Ousmane Cissé, Director of the Malian Company for the Development of Textiles (CMDT). “Now, the pesticides we use are recommended by the Sahelian Committee and approved, so they are authorized for sale. We also regularly hold information sessions with farmers and encourage our pesticide suppliers to attend.”

The Africa Stockpiles Program (ASP Mali) disposed of 65 tons of obsolete products and associated waste, and identified and secured part of the stockpiles.

Training and information for successful prevention

The project also developed a National Prevention Plan, which addresses all aspects of the pesticides lifecycle and provides a more suitable legal framework. A great deal has been done to manage the risks upstream by improving import controls and the system for the approval of chemical inputs imported from abroad. A reliable inventory system on available stocks and products in circulation has gradually been set up, identifying and securing storage sites. These warehouses and stores are required to meet safety standards and FAO guidelines to prevent contamination of the surrounding environment.

A vast training program has familiarized all the sector’s stakeholders with the legislation in force, the products classification, and the treatment and decontamination of equipment and materials used, as well as the use of protective equipment, and repacking of empty packaging. In 2019, the CMDT collected 35,000 containers, 21,000 bottles and 1,000 bags of pesticides nationwide. Other regions such as Kita and Koutiala also launched a collection and centralization system for this packaging, working with the cotton producer cooperative.

The project’s actions were complemented by an information, education and communication strategy. Community theater, comics, blogs written by young people, videos, organic cookery workshops and radio spots were among the communication channels used for the #StopPesticidesObsolète information campaign run by the media group Benbere.

Despite the pandemic, training initiatives continued with a smaller number of people. By engaging with all the local stakeholders and informing both users and the general public of the dangers associated with potentially toxic products in their everyday lives, Mali is leading the fight for the sustainable management of obsolete pesticides in the region.

The project’s actions against the use of obsolete pesticides were complemented by a multitrack information strategy including the use of comics to inform the population. ©