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Trade in sub-standard pesticides




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    THE pesticides trade has come under increasing pressure from the Punjab government during the last fortnight. In a bid to control fake and sub-standard pesticides, a Task Force has started raiding almost every corner of the province to “ensure quality pesticides in the market.” The pesticides’ manufacturers and formulators responded by accusing the government of harassment and decided to go on strike and stop supplying pesticides.
    The government’s campaign started in July, which is one of the three crucial months with August and September for application of pesticides both for cotton and rice.
    Farmers panicked as supplies got squeezed and traders and government refused to relent from their stated positions. The government wants to purge the market of fake and sub-standard pesticides, and traders complain that in their enthusiasm to cleanse the market, officials forget that the right regulatory regime has not been put in place to get positive outcome.
    Ultimately, the manufacturers and formulators relented on July 8, but only for 10 days, threatening to go on an indefinite strike if official campaign was not stopped and their other demands were not accepted. The Punjab government welcomed the end of the strike but it refused to “go slow on raids and be blackmailed into leaving the trade with sellers of sub-standard pesticides.”
    As both sides locked their horns, no one from the government side tried to look into the causes of the current dispensation governing pesticide trade. The sector falls under the purview of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (MINFAL) – rather than the provincial government.
    The Punjab government, with a perceptibly strong administrator taking over as the chief minister, resorted to administering pesticides market rather than wasting time on policy matters, which, anyway, fall outside its jurisdiction.
    The federal government has recently exempted imports of pesticides from all taxes and duties. The manufacturers complain that importers of raw material of pesticides have to pay 16 per cent general sales tax (GST) and five per cent import duty. Thus importers of pesticides (traders) now have an advantage of 21 per cent on manufacturers, they added.
    The manufacturers say that they are handicapped by the absence of any manufacturing policy – an essential first-step to bring any investment and encourage local production of pesticides — which would make it much easier to control quality.
    Controlling quality of imported pesticides needs a very stringent and efficient regulatory import regime. Pakistan, unfortunately, also suffer on this account.
    Till recently, the import of pesticide was taxed and huge quantities were smuggled into the country. The smuggled items were not subject exposed to any quality check. The issue came to fore in the current campaign against sub-standard pesticides when documents for huge quantities were found missing and a huge number of FIRs were lodged against the defaulters.
    No body really knows how to ensure and sustain quality of these smuggled pesticides. It ends in a vicious cycle of blame game; the retailers accusing the dealers, who in turn hold importers responsible and importers pass the buck to the foreign manufacturers.
    There is no permanent body, like in the pharmaceutical trade, to fix the responsibility at what stage a pesticide became sub-standard. Whether it was a manufacturing fault or mishandling at the transportation or storage stage caused it. Thus the retailers, the end-seller, bore the brunt for others’ fault and cried foul, forcing other stakeholder to go on strike.
    As a first step, the government should reverse the policy of encouraging trade and come up with a national pesticides manufacturing policy. It should at least encourage if it cannot make manufacturing compulsory within the country. Only then it would be able to control quality to the pesticides with any measure of success.
    Only local manufacturing will give the government some kind of control over the price of pesticides. Presently, the traders tend to make windfall profits because no one knows at what price they import and what price they should charge. The pesticides prices went up by 25 to 30 per cent last year alone.
    Since most of the trade is in the hand of traders, they cannot be forced into extension services which are essential for the success of agriculture sector. To promote their brand the local manufacturing companies could offer extension services to farmers on the right time and doses and pest identification. With the government extension services being almost non-existent, the farmers are also on their own in dealing with pests. And with substandard and fake pesticides invading trade, one can imagine what an unaware and illiterate farmer can do.
    Courtesy: The DAWN

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