New UNEP report provides actions to minimize adverse impacts on health and environment from pesticides and fertilizers

Nairobi, 8 December 2022 A report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) provides new insights on actions stakeholders could take to minimize the adverse impacts of pesticides and fertilizers to human and environment health.

The Environmental and Health Impacts of Pesticides and Fertilizers and Ways to Minimize Them report, written in close collaboration and consultation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), highlights the need for transformative actions and better management of pesticides and fertilizers as global demand and use of the products increases.

The report outlines six priority transformative actions to strengthen pesticide and fertilizer management:

  • Incentivize healthy and sustainable consumer choices and consumption;
  • Fundamentally change crop management and adopt ecosystem-based approaches;
  • Promote circularity and resource efficiency;
  • Use economic instruments to create a level playing field for greener products and approaches;
  • Adopt integrated and life cycle approaches for sound pesticide and fertilizer management;
  • Strengthen standards and adopt corporate policies for sustainable supply chain management.

Alongside the transformative actions are 13 priority actions to strengthen pesticide and fertilizer management. These include among others, prioritizing the development of, and access to, low-risk pesticides and bioprotectants, and scaling up training of all relevant stakeholders in fertilizer and nutrient management.

The worlds population is expected to expand from 7.8 billion in 2020 to almost 10 billion by 2050. Demand for food is projected to grow by 60 per cent, meat production by nearly 70 per cent, aquaculture production by 90 per cent and production of dairy products by 55 per cent.

The global demand for crops has bolstered the market for agrochemicals. For example, global sales revenues for inorganic fertilizers were approximately US$ 151 billion in 2018 and are projected to grow by 3.8 per cent between 2020 and 2025.

Pesticides and fertilizers provide a range of benefits. They reduce crop loss, lower the prevalence of human vector-borne diseases, increase shelf life of agricultural commodities, increase livestock yields and provides better protection of wooden structures. Fertilizers contribute to increased crop yields, are used to improve the quality of food and feed, and reduce the need to convert land to agriculture.

However, numerous studies link the exposure of pesticides and fertilizers to serious effects to human health such as cancer, effects on reproduction, immune and nervous systems; along with disruptions to vital ecosystems and the spread of aquatic hypoxic zones.

Despite many peer-reviewed scientific studies, and consolidated knowledge about the adverse impacts of pesticides and fertilizers at the global level, knowledge and information gaps remain.

As the report concluded, we still have knowledge gaps that need to be urgently filled and options for action to be considered. Focusing on methodologies, tools, approaches and policies that directly strengthen pesticide and fertilizer management, with the aim of minimizing the adverse effects to our health and the environment, is key for a sustainable, safe, clean future for all, said Jacqueline Alvarez, Chief of Chemicals and Health Branch of UNEP.

The development of this report was done at the request of member States, as stated in resolution 3/4 adopted at the third session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA). The resolution requested UNEPs Executive Director to present a report on the environmental and health impacts of pesticides and fertilizers and ways of minimizing them, given the lack of data in that regard, in collaboration with the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and other relevant organizations by the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly.

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.