Through the Eyes of the Farmers – How Counterfeit Pesticides can impact farmer livelihoods, food supplies, and the environment

Through the Eyes of the Farmers – How Counterfeit Pesticides can impact farmer livelihoods, food supplies, and the environment

April 26, 2021

Legal crop protection products are among the most regulated products in the world, but the international trade of illegal pesticides (e.g., counterfeit, and unauthorised active ingredients and finished products) continues -across the globe. Counterfeit and illegal pesticides are a growing problem for the agriculture industry, having negative effects on farmers, manufacturers, national economies, and the environment alike. However, thanks to the work of many, stakeholders are making a stand against illegal and counterfeit pesticides to protect farmers and crops across the globe.

A Global Crisis

In their 2020 paper on counterfeit pesticides, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that global trade in illegal pesticides has been steadily growing in recent years, posing threats to agriculture, food supply, the environment, farmer health, and national economies. Police, regulators and customs are increasing their seizures of counterfeit and unauthorised pesticides. The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) estimates that in the EU alone, “counterfeiting in the pesticides sector causes approximately EUR 2.8 billion of lost sales to the EU economy….” Europol oversees special police investigations and seizures of counterfeit and illegal pesticides called Operation Silver Axe, resulting in 2,568 tons of illegal pesticides being seized in the EU over the past five years. According to a report submitted by the European Commission in 2015 from the Director General for Health and Food Safety, illegal pesticides represent 10 per cent of the European market. The EUIPO estimates that number is now closer to 14 per cent. According to the OECD, “global revenues associated with the trade of illegal pesticides are estimated at USD 6-10 billion.” This makes trade in illegal pesticides one of the most significant organized crime businesses in the world based on the report from the OECD.

What are Counterfeits Pesticides?

According to the OECD, an illegal pesticide refers to a pesticide that is not legal in the country where it is “placed on the market” – this includes counterfeit, unauthorized pesticides, and obsolete pesticides. These pesticides pose a danger as their contents are unknown, untested and unregulated, which pose serious harm to farmers, crops, and the environment (OECD, 2020, Pg.7).

How do Counterfeit and Illegal Pesticides Affect Farmers?

The negative impacts of counterfeit pesticides are many. For farmers, counterfeits can lead to loss of revenues due to decreases in crop yields or severe damage to crops. In low income countries, this can worsen poverty and threaten food security for already vulnerable communities. Farmers often unknowingly purchase counterfeits only to realize their mistake at the much greater cost of losing their crops. In addition to economic challenges for the farmer, counterfeits can be harmful to the environment as they are not tested for safety, unlike legal pesticides which are extensively tested before being authorized.

What Action is Being Taken?

Thanks to the work of industry leaders, anti-counterfeiting experts, law enforcement, international government organizations, and farmers themselves, much is being done to combat counterfeit pesticides. CropLife International works internationally with stakeholders including farmers, governments, and law enforcement – both international and national – resulting in greater awareness of the concerns with counterfeit pesticides.

Additionally, stewardship approaches like the spray service provider (SSP) program in Africa professionally trains farmers and other individuals on how to apply crop protection products. They then hire out their services to other farmers. Part of the training includes ensuring SSPs know how to purchase authorized legal crop protection products, therefore reducing the risk of farmers using counterfeits on their crops.

CropLife International also works to raise awareness, and farmer education efforts have been effective in combatting the illegal sale and distribution of counterfeits. Farmer awareness is one of the core elements of the CropLife International global anti-counterfeit strategy and campaigns help to decrease the demand for illegal pesticides. In fact, check out our latest infographic advising farmers three questions to ask every time they purchase pesticides empowering the farmer to insist they purchase legally registered pesticides.



There is still a long way to go in the fight against counterfeit pesticides, but through our farmer education and advocacy efforts, along with our partners, CropLife International is making a difference. To learn more about CropLife International’s anti-counterfeiting efforts and our partners click here.