As part of efforts to curb the use of illegal pesticides in agriculture, Rwanda is taking significant steps to enforce laws, closely monitor field compliance, and promote sustainable farming practices. Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) underscored these initiatives during a stakeholder consultation and awareness event on Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) held on August 29. ALSO READ: Six key priorities the Ministry of Agriculture eyes to boost productivity Organized by the Rwanda Climate Change and Development Network (RCCDN), Rwandan Association of Ecologists, and International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), the workshop provided a platform for various agricultural stakeholders to discuss the prevalence of HHPs and their potential hazards. In a press interview, Beata Akimpaye, REMA's Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Division Manager, stated, At present, our challenge lies in aligning our regulations with approximately 18 international treaties and conventions. While the Rwandan government has embraced and ratified these agreements, bridging the gap between theory and practice remains a concern. Issues persist, such as illicit smuggling and a lack of awareness among farmers regarding the harmful nature of HHPs. “This lack of awareness inadvertently leads some farmers to import these hazardous substances, even through legal channels. To address these challenges, we are actively engaging with farmers in the field, conducting educational initiatives, including forums like this one, and upholding the rule of law whenever necessary, Akimpaye said. ALSO READ: We must go the organic way to solve the toxic pesticide challenge Vincent Karemera, Program Manager at the Rwandan Association of Ecologists, emphasized, Through numerous studies, we have assessed the extent of HHPs' presence. While the issue may not be glaring currently, raising awareness is crucial. We've endorsed multiple international agreements that prohibit the usage of these harmful pesticides. If we persist in their use, the repercussions may not manifest immediately, but they will eventually emerge. Fortunately, safer alternatives, such as pesticides derived from pyrethrum and embracing organic farming methods, are available. Faustin Vuningoma, Coordinator of the Rwanda Climate Change and Development Network (RCCDN), underscored the detrimental impact of HHPs, stating: HHPs have unequivocally demonstrated adverse effects on human health, the environment, and biodiversity. You may have heard complaints, particularly from regions like Nyamasheke, where beekeeping is practiced, about the tragic loss of bees due to these pesticides. Additionally, these substances pose significant hazards to human well-being. Some nations have already removed them from their markets due to their hazardous nature. He continued, It's imperative that we delve deeper into this issue. Our scientists must intensify their efforts to explore superior alternatives for pesticides. We should aim to adopt pesticides that are not rejected in other countries' markets due to their hazardous impact on human life, the environment, and biodiversity. ALSO READ: Is Rwanda safe from banned pesticides? According to a 2023 study report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), titled Identification of the current highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) still in use in Rwanda and update the national shortlist, Rwanda had a total of 189 pesticide formulations in use, with 30 (15.8 percent) of them classified as HHPs. The report also highlighted the presence of fraudulent and banned pesticides in the country's importation list. One of the major contributors to the importation of HHPs was the fungicide Mancozeb, accounting for a substantial 70.5 percent of the total imported quantity. The report further indicated that control measures against late blight disease on potatoes and tomatoes have led to the widespread use of fungicides, particularly Mancozeb and Ridomil. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) the potential long-term effects of pesticide exposure encompass birth defects, fetal toxicity, the development of benign or malignant tumors, genetic alterations, blood disorders, nerve and endocrine system disruptions, as well as impacts on reproduction. Direct consequences for farmers include afflictions like stinging eyes, rashes, blisters, blindness, nausea, dizziness, and even death. Other negative environmental repercussions arise from soil, water, and non-target plant contamination. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, collaboration between regulatory bodies, farmers, and scientific communities will play a pivotal role in shaping a safer and more ecologically sustainable trajectory for Rwanda's agriculture sector.