Reducing pesticides in Lao fruits and vegetables sector
ITC training boosts skills of government officials on pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables in Lao PDR to improve food safety when exporting to the EU
Soumeexay Kingsavanh (Sou) works as a technical staff member at the Pesticide and Plant Nutrient Unit of the Plant Protection Centre in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR).
Over the past 17 years, every day the 41-year-old plant protection officers is visiting organic and fresh local markets to collect samples of fruits and vegetables; and then analysing them for any exceeding pesticide residues in the laboratory.
Pesticides are used to control pests, weeds, and diseases. In agriculture, pesticides are known as ‘plant protection products’. However, pesticides can cause short- and long-term adverse health effects as well as damage soil, water, turf, and other vegetation. Undeniably, humans are exposed to pesticides via the food chain throughout the world.
In terms of trade, the European Union (EU) was Lao PDR's fourth biggest partner in 2021. A total of €285 million worth of goods were imported from Lao PDR, mainly textiles, footwear and agricultural products. To continue trading with the EU, Lao PDR must comply with EU regulations and its strict criteria for approval when it comes to active substances in agricultural products – to protect human and animal health, and the environment.
The Plant Protection Centre operates under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Its main responsibility is to survey and monitor pests nationwide, implement pest control methods and techniques, develop technical manuals, and organize training. Despite this ambitious mission, the Centre lacks the resources and knowledge to conduct trainings, which then inhibits the effective work of its staff.
Last month, Sou attended a workshop on Pesticide Residue Monitoring for Targeted Crops and MRL/Import Tolerances Setting (Maximum Residue Limit or food tolerance is the maximum amount of a pesticide residue that can be found in or on food). In this workshop, technical officers of the Plant Protection Centre, the Department of Food & Drugs, and other relevant stakeholders and cooperatives were brought together to discuss and raise awareness of the challenges related to pesticide residues when exporting fruits and vegetables to the EU – ultimately, food safety issues.
“Through this workshop, I have deepened my knowledge on the maximum level of pesticide residue that is legally tolerated in targeted crops such as rice, basil, chili and watermelon from different provinces,” says Sou.
Moreover, Sou was intrigued by the topic of Import Tolerance. She says, “I learned something new. For example, Lao exporters can submit a request to the EU authority to set import tolerances for active substances in papayas and other products grown outside of the EU and exported to the EU”. This can be an opportunity for exporters as Plant Protection Officers like Sou can assist them in requesting MRL/IT to meet the EU criteria.
Sou is eager to share the techniques she learned with her fellow colleagues and apply the information to improve her work at the Pesticide and Plant Nutrient Unit.
About the workshop
The workshop on Pesticide Residue Monitoring (PRM) Programme Implementation for Targeted Crops (watermelon, rice, basil and chili) and Maximum Residue Level/Import Tolerances Setting was organized from 21-22 September 2022. It complimented the mission of experts to target provinces (from 12-16 September) who gathered data from the pilot pesticide monitoring programme. In addition, the workshop allowed relevant stakeholders to review the PRM, EU guidelines for MRL/IT setting on agricultural crops, and the evolution of RASFF notifications related to the EU interceptions.
The workshop was organized under the International Trade Centre’s Systematic Mechanism for Safer Trade (SYMST) Lao PDR project. It aims to develop a systematic approach for technical support to Lao PDR around plant health and pesticides for fruits and vegetables and other plant products.
About the project
The International Trade Centre’s Systematic Mechanism for Safer Trade project provides the necessary skills for participating companies to improve their market-access opportunities. It also helps build business links between farmers and exporters and increases the interest of international buyers. Ultimately, the project looks at enhancing the exporter’s opportunities to access regional and European markets.
The project was jointly established in 2020 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and the International Trade Centre (ITC) and is funded by the European Union.