Sunday, January 20, 2013

(HERALD ZW) Paraquat herbicide faces ban

Paraquat herbicide faces ban
Friday, 18 January 2013 00:00
Senior Agriculture Reporter

ZIMBABWE will work towards exhausting all stocks of the paraquat herbicide in line with China’s research findings that the chemical is highly toxic and therefore unsuitable for continued use.

Principal director in the Department of Research and Specialist Services, Mrs Danisile Hikwa, said although China’s research findings had not been officially communicated to all countries, it was critical for the country to take a cue and phase the chemical out.

The Chinese government announced that the country would halt all production and use of liquid paraquat by 2016 after Chinese researcher Sun Jing and other members of the Pesticide Eco-Alternatives Centre in China learned that local farmers were mysteriously falling ill and dying from effects of the chemical.

Sun suspected this had something to do with the herbicide paraquat that farmers were using. The farmers had no idea what a deadly chemical they were handling every day.

Paraquat is an acutely toxic weed killer. The chemical destroys green plant tissue on contact and is also toxic to animals. Direct contact on the skin causes death. Long-term exposure can result in Parkinson’s disease and skin cancer.

China is the world’s largest producer of paraquat, manufacturing 100 000 tonnes per year. Sun and her colleagues researched the chemical.

“If there is information like that coming from China, it will soon be shared so that we look for alternative chemicals to use in weed control without endangering the lives of the farmers, biodiversity and other plants. Paraquat is not a selective herbicide and kills everything in its path on contact.

“It should not be a problem when it is phased out. We will just look for alternatives. There are conventions guiding the use of chemicals and Zimbabwe has ratified some of them so we have to conform.

The Rotterdam Convention for instance, which regulates the trade of chemicals and the Stockholm Convention that is concerned with the disposal of chemicals are some of the conventions to which Zimbabwe is a signatory and has to abide,” said Mrs Hikwa.

She said it was now the prerogative of different countries either to stop the use of the chemical at once or to phase it out gradually.

“There are stocks of the chemical in the custody of farmers out there and it will take time for all of them to be exhausted so we shall see how it goes before we can even think of setting our own deadline for the total ban of the chemical,” she said.

Mrs Hikwa said paraquat was part of the chemicals that bear the purple label and were dangerous and traditionally not allowed to be handled by smallholder farmers without supervision from trained personnel.

Other chemicals the country banned because of their high toxicity include methylbromide and dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT). Mrs Hikwa’s comments come in the wake of reports that several years ago, Global Greengrants Fund supported their work from the beginning and sustained it over several years.

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