Summary of “Problems in Combating the Illegal Use of Pesticides and Agrochemicals in Agricultural Cultivation in Eastern Siberia” (2012)

Developed by Enkhchimeg “Jewel” Sengee, TraCCC Graduate Research Fellow, June 2013

“Problems in Combating the Illegal Use of Pesticides and Agrochemicals in Agricultural Cultivation in Eastern Siberia” (2012)

Yu. O. Karpysheva
Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) at George Mason University


Yuliya. O. Karpysheva conducted a research project in 2012 on the illegal use of banned pesticides and agrochemicals in the cultivation of agricultural goods in Eastern Siberia, in the Russian Federation (RF). The author analyses the illegal use of harmful pesticides and agrochemicals, and offers a series of policy recommendations to mitigate the problem. The documents under analysis  range from files pertaining to  inspections on agricultural farms (2009-2011), to mass media, relevant legislation, and analyses of the ability of state authorities to deal with this problem. The empirical research includes a survey involving 87 Chinese citizens working on 32 farms in Eastern Siberia, and interviews with experts.

Karpysheva finds that organized crime groups are only beginning to get involved in agricultural business, since agriculture, unlike drugs, does not generate excess profits.  However, this problem is likely to grow, and contribute to criminality in the region in a number of different ways. Illegal agriculture provides resources for organized crime groups by paying taxes to them for their agricultural activity in the region; and is correlated with other serious crimes like human smuggling and illegal migration. Moreover, the illegal agricultural business poses numerous threats to public health and food safety, encourages corruption, expands illicit market activities and damages the environment.

The author emphasizes that the use of illegal pesticides and agrochemicals leads to market distortions and the rise of illegal farming. Per Karpysheva, the agricultural season in Siberia is short, and due to the harsh climate, the harvest is relatively small, just about enough to meet the local demand. The banned pesticides and agrochemicals make it possible to grow more produce with shorter maturation periods than under normal circumstances (p. 8). These in turn, generate higher profits and crowd legal production out of the market.  For example, potatoes cultivated with banned chemicals generate 300 percent higher profits and cucumber generates 200 percent higher profits than those cultivated by using safe pesticides (p. 15). This creates unfair competition and forces legally operating farms out of the market, eventually leaving the field open to illegal farming.

According to Karpysheva, these potentially dangerous fruits and vegetables are widely sold by legal and illegal supply chains. This is particularly evident during the summer when there are numerous unauthorized street vendors selling produce.  These are run mostly by retired Russians who claim that they cultivated these products themselves when in fact they bought them cheaply from Chinese farms using dangerous pesticides and agrochemicals (p. 38). The customers are victimized because they cannot differentiate between safe and unsafe produce. The author reports that inspections have found that half of the supermarkets and farmers markets sell unsafe produce. In Irkutsk oblast’, only within six months of 2010, the authorities destroyed local produce estimated at 11,559 pounds (5,243 kg) that was treated with  banned pesticides. Karpysheva further asserts that use of these banned chemicals is not only a threat to public health. It permanently damages local ecosystems by contaminating water and soil, and harms flora and fauna that local people and wild animals depend on.

The author explains that degradation of the agricultural sector dates back to the transition from communism in 1991, resulting from the agricultural reforms, which lacked adequate legal regulation and drastically reduced the government involvement (in the sector) (p. 2-3). Per Karpysheva, in the first half of the 1990s, a massive re-registration of collective and state farms was conducted, and ownership status was changed (privatized). The new landowners were unable to use the land that they were allocated because they lacked resources and a reliable labor supply. This idle land was attractive for illegal use and the unauthorized establishment of greenhouses using banned chemicals. The problem was aggravated by laws which state that if land remains unused for three or more years after the transfer of ownership, it will be returned to state or municipal ownership (p. 35). As a result, land owners were eager to rent their land to foreign citizens for agricultural purposes, even without any contract or legal basis. Idle land was subjected to unauthorized land grabbing as well.

Karpysheva says that the 1990s’ reform in the agrarian sector destroyed the effective operation of collective and state farms. She claims that farms that had operated successfully for many years struggled to survive in the new economy, and eventually fell into mass bankruptcy (p.9). Only a handful of farms could survive with huge losses. This caused more farms to operate illegally. Illegal farms did not pay taxes, did not pay for the land, and paid a very low wage to illegal migrants, as a result of which they made higher profits than legal farms. All of these factors eventually led to the expansion and flourishing of illegal agricultural business in the region. An inspection in one of these illegal farms in 2011 revealed that the use of “protsimidon” was double the level that is allowed in cultivating tomatoes. According to the experts interviewed, this pesticide is extremely harmful to humans and can lead to serious illnesses, such as cancer.

Karpysheva emphasizes that illegal agricultural activity in Siberia is intimately connected to the illegal migration of Chinese workers to the RF. She finds that it is predominantly illegal Chinese immigrants or Russian citizens of Chinese origin who use banned pesticides in Eastern Siberia. In 137 cases (2009-2011) of violations involving the use of pesticides and agrochemicals, 88 percent (120 of 137) of violators were Chinese immigrants (both legal and illegal) and 12 percent were citizens of the RF or Former-USSR states. Due to the close proximity of China, foreign migrants in Eastern Siberia are primarily Chinese, who usually have a low-income and little education, and no knowledge of Russian language and law. The author notes that their illegal status puts them in a situation of reliance on illicit markets, and their exclusion from social protection makes them vulnerable to criminal exploitation of their labor. Karpysheva notes that, recently, Chinese people with speaking or hearing impairments are widely used in this illegal activity because, if they are detained by the police, they will not be able to provide any information to the authorities.

The author asserts that, currently, the practice of border crossing and moving migrants from PRC to RF is well established and the integration of Chinese migrants in the economy of Siberia and the Russian Far East has increased dramatically (p. 22-24). According to her interviews with experts, 10-15 percent of all foreigners crossing Russia’s borders overstay their visa and become illegal immigrants or illegal workers. Karpysheva underscores the involvement of organized crime in, supplying labor for illicit market and other criminal activities. The author notes that the Chinese Triads are widely involved in this activity. Their flexible network structure facilitates different types of criminal activity, including illegal migration. Of the Chinese migrants involved in the research, 84 percent (74 of 87) said they came to the RF specifically to work in the agricultural sector. Their arrival in the RF and job placement was processed by Russian citizens of Chinese origin living in the RF and Chinese citizens residing in the PRC.

Karpysheva finds that the inadequacy of Russian laws in regulating the invitation of foreign workers hurts both lawful firms and migrant workers. According to RF law, firms inviting foreign workers are responsible for compiling all necessary documentation. Based on expert interviews, the companies inviting foreign workers often do not exist at the registered address and are not operating. These firms, called “Odnodnevniki,”(one-day firms) are established on a short-term basis just to compile the invitation documents. After submitting the invitation documents, they close down. One of the experts involved in the research stated that the different locations of these companies (in far-flung cities) make them difficult to trace. Consequently, both fraudulent and lawful firms are issued permission to invite foreign workers. The Chinese migrants who arrive in Russia through invitations from fraudulent companies overstay their visas and become illegal immigrants. The author finds that the uninterrupted flow of cheap illegal labor from the PRC reinforces illegal activity in the agricultural sector in Siberia. Based on her findings, Karpysheva concludes that organized crime groups specializing in illegal migration are primarily responsible for bringing Chinese migrants to work in the agricultural sector in Eastern Siberia.

The research reveals the inability of state authorities to deal with the problem. The author emphasizes that illegal migration breeds corruption within the civil service. 90 percent (78 of 87) of Chinese illegal migrants involved in Karpysheva’s survey said that they escaped deportation from RF by bribing government officials, especially in the federal migration agencies. The research shows that 23 percent of banned pesticides and agrochemicals arrive in Russia under the guise of other goods, 58 percent are brought together with fertilizers which are approved for use, 19 percent cross the border with passengers, and are not inspected due to lack of expertise on the part of customs agents (p. 21). The author also emphasizes that the control and inspection of agricultural activities in the region are under the jurisdiction of several different organizations, but criminal activity within the agricultural sector is a multi-faceted problem demanding a coordinated response. The author states that the current legislation ignores this problem and that regulations in effect reveal systemic problems hindering effective and coordinated actions by the responsible authorities(p. 29-32). For instance, the federal law states that the authorities shall conduct test-inspections once in 3 years with a 20 days prior notice to the parties covered in the inspection. Karpysheva stresses that this situation works in favor of illegal agricultural businesses, and the authorities are put in a situation where they have to violate the law (conduct raids without notification) to do their work effectively.

Karpysheva sees two reasons for the continuing neglect of this issue by state authorities: corruption and a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the issue. The author stresses that the courts are the only organization capable of terminating the illegally-operated greenhouses (p. 33-34). However, it is challenging to compile evidence of ecological crimes in the court. Today, even the court decisions remain unexecuted because the court does not have the power to shut down the illegal greenhouses, nor can it do it independently. Yet, the corresponding authorities lack funds for such activities.

Policy Recommendations

Karpysheva provides a series of policy recommendations to help combat the illegal use of pesticides and agrochemicals in agricultural activities in Eastern Siberia (34-41).

Use of Land. The unused land belonging to the citizens is mainly grabbed by illegal farmers (Land Grabbing). The law authorizes authorities to seize the ownership of land which was unutilized for three or more years. However, so far, in practice, the relevant authorities have not made a use of their legal rights. If the authorities exercise their power, they can reduce the amount of idle land plots by seizing the land, then provide them to citizens and firms willing to conduct agricultural activity within the law. This will make users of such land lawful and will allow authorities to carry out the necessary controls.

Customs Inspections. Karpysheva suggests that Customs Agencies should have staff who can differentiate between legal and illegal agrochemicals. They should be involved in checking the baggage and hand-luggage of people traveling from China to Russia, to prevent banned agrochemicals entering the RF. According to Karpysheva, ideally these staff should be customs officers with the requisite training who have also passed annual refresher courses. She says that experts from the Regional Authority for Agricultural Inspections could be assigned to work with the Customs Agencies in conducting these inspections as well.

Government Control. Government supervision of agricultural activities should involve all the relevant authorities.  However, Karpysheva notes that this is a challenge since each e organization has a separate work plan and schedule. Consequently, she proposes to expand the jurisdiction of the Regional Authority for Agricultural Inspections,  to enable them to undertake actions not only related to the illegal use of pesticides or agrochemicals, but also to the use of land, and the safety of agricultural food products. She emphasizes that the issues of illegal migration should remain the responsibility of migration agencies because they possess expertise in this area. Regarding the prosecution of environmental crimes, Karpysheva suggests that soil and water samples should be collected when the use of illegal pesticides and agrochemicals is detected. This would serve as evidence of the destructive impact of illegal chemicals on the environment, and facilitate legal punishment.

Sale of Unsafe Agricultural Goods. The author states that, as in any economic activity, supply and demand are intimately connected. Customers care about consuming safe goods, but they cannot differentiate toxic groceries from the safe ones. Agricultural goods cultivated using banned pesticides and agrochemicals are mostly sold in supermarkets and unauthorized street vendors during harvest seasons. Therefore, the street vendors’ activities should be closely monitored by the authorities. Supermarkets should be required to test groceries before releasing them for sale in a specialized laboratory. This will make them more accountable to the quality of their products.

Migration. Lawful labor migration should be better facilitated by government organizations.  Firstly, the quota for foreign migrant workers should be increased. The current quota for foreign laborers in the RF does not meet the labor demand in the agricultural sector even in the Irkutsk oblast’. A higher quota for foreign laborers will decrease illegal labor migration and will lower the human rights abuse of migrant workers in RF. Opportunities for corruption in the civil service, especially in the migration department, will fall as well. Secondly, the registration and permits necessary for employment in the region should be simplified. Migrants should be provided with a package providing necessary information about documents they need to submit, where to register, and the fees they need to pay to process a work permit in Eastern Siberia. Thirdly, the authorities should simplify the work permit process for employers and toughen sanctions against employers hiring illegal foreign migrants. The interregional migration services should unify the registration process for foreigners arriving in RF, then calculate the number of people arriving on a tourist visa, to estimate the number of migrants overstaying their visa. The passport information of these illegal migrants should be transferred to law enforcement to identify violators of the Russian migratory legislation, and conduct subsequent deportation from the country (p. 41). However, some improvements need to be made in the deportation process for illegal foreign migrants. Currently, there are no facilities in the Irkutsk oblast’ to accommodate illegal migrants before they are deported. Consequently, the creation of such facility will ease the process of deportation of illegal migrants from RF.


Link to the original research in Russian: Karpysheva_Illegal_Use_of_Pesticides_2012

NOTE: This is a direct summary of the original report in Russian. The content and views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of TraCCC.

Contact TraCCC at traccc@gmu.edu