The high rate of proliferation of fake herbicides in Nigeria’s agro-allied markets has become a matter of grave concern to many farmers. Recent media reports indicate that fake herbicides have flooded agro-allied markets in Katsina state. We may have no reason not to believe that such is the situation that obtains in most agrarian communities in the northern part of the country. Aside wasting farmers’ limited resources and time, fake herbicides adversely affect crop production on their farms. In addition to a total loss of treated crops, fake herbicides could compromise a farmer’s livelihood. The soil is equally exposed to some negative effects that may arise from the use of fake herbicides on weeds. All these should concern everyone because of the shared consequences they have on food security.
In the good old years when Nigerian manufacturers, dealers and retailers of products knew little about adulteration or how chemical products are counterfeited, herbicides helped tremendously in getting rid of stubborn weeds and shrubs on the farms. They also did that at a low cost. For example, a farmer needed only about N1, 000 to buy a litre of herbicide to spray the weeds on his farm which would have required him to spend about N5, 000 if he were to hire labourers to weed the same farm. The discovery by farmers of the relative cost effectiveness of herbicides over the traditional method of weeding farmlands with hoes has since led to the massive demand for herbicides. Consequently, criminal elements in the society have now taken undue advantage of the situation by producing adulterated products.
Counterfeit refers to a product is deliberately and fraudulently copied with respect to identity, source and/or composition. Counterfeit herbicides are fake products often produced and packaged to look like the genuine article. The widespread availability of technology needed to produce counterfeit and illegal herbicides, coupled with the huge demand for these processed chemicals all contribute to facilitate the trade of counterfeit products. Counterfeit and illegal herbicides damage the reputation of legitimate stakeholders and challenge sustainable agriculture.
Additionally, the production, trade and use of fake herbicides circumvent legitimate economic activities. Marketing of fake herbicides has become a lucrative business for criminals. The local trade in counterfeit herbicides is increasingly on the rise; presenting increased risk to human health, the environment and the economy. Experts assert that if fake herbicides producers on the global scale were a single company, they would be the 4th largest company in value in the world.
Usually, most fake chemical products neither pass through regulatory or quality control processes nor are they subjected to any laboratory tests. They often contain chemicals which are either banned or restricted due to the risk they pose to human health and/or the environment. As part of organized criminal networks, the production of counterfeit herbicides is not required to comply with standards, which is why they present risks to human health and the environment. Unapproved active ingredients in counterfeit products can leave unacceptable residues on produce; rendering them unfit for marketing and consumption.
Sophisticated-looking packaging and labeling most often appear identical to original legitimate products. The contents of the fake product may contain a variety of active and inactive ingredients of varying qualities. The adulteration of herbicides is cleverly done in such a way that it becomes difficult for farmers to detect or differentiate genuine from adulterated products. There are insinuations from farmers that adulterators of the products use original cans of the herbicides to repackage the contents by filling the containers with a combination of gasoline and other substances instead of glyphosate and Isopropylamine that make up the original herbicide.
Farmers who are the end-users of fake herbicides only get to know that the herbicide they bought wasn’t genuine when the herbicides used on the farm fail to have any effect on weeds after one or two weeks from the date it was applied. Some crooked tricks of marketers of counterfeit herbicides include using sophisticated falsified brand labels in packaging the products as well as labeling the products in foreign languages. Vigilant farmers and users of fake chemical products may notice inappropriate packaging materials.
Since it is widely believed that majority of the bad elements who market adulterated products are small-scale retailers and hawkers who get away with their criminal act in local markets where they easily take advantage of the naivety of local farmers, there is need for agro allied companies to put a check on how their genuine products are sold in the markets so as to protect their brand name as well as the integrity and sanctity of their products.
It is also important for the Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) to strengthen its surveillance mechanisms to check the high rate at which agro-allied markets are flooded with fake herbicides. Since the use of counterfeit herbicides can pose real risks to farmers, the environment and the health of crops; the federal and state ministries of agriculture through their agricultural extension services must work to raise awareness of the issues of counterfeit and illegal herbicides. Failure by relevant authorities to address the menace of fake herbicides only puts the agricultural economy of the ccountry at great risk.
Farmers should be encouraged to know their supplier and avoid buying herbicides from unknown sources. They should equally be supported to report to relevant health and agricultural agencies anytime they come across fake herbicides or other plant protection products. Government particularly at the local level, which is the closest to farmers, should provide administrative machinery in the form of task force to receive and deal with such complaints. As always emphasized in this column, the role of agricultural extension officers is paramount in ensuring food security and sustainable agricultural activities. That can only be achieved if the menace of fake herbicides is effectively checked and brought under control. May Allah (SWT) continue to support farmers with a blessed raining season; forestall the flooding of farmlands; and give farmers bumper harvests; amin.