Motion is currently awaiting its second reading in Parliament.
More than 500,000 farmers of fresh produce stand to lose over 70 per cent of the Sh150 billion revenue earned in annual exports to Europe and allied markets if Parliament adopts a Bill seeking to ban the use of pesticides.
These statistics were provided by Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya CEO Okisegere Ojepat, who said he was speaking on behalf of the 500,000 producers. He argued Parliament’s move was not about food safety because the EU does not offer an alternative.
Producers — who include vegetable, fruit and flower farmers — want Parliament to throw out a petition being pushed on the floor of the House through a private member’s motion.
The European Union (EU) has set maximum residue levels (MRLs) for pesticides in food products in a move it emphasises is meant to avoid health and environmental risks affiliated to pesticides.
Products containing more pesticide molecules than allowed will be withdrawn from the European market.
MRLs are often made stricter with new insights from Europe’s food safety authorities. Supermarket chains in the EU maintain the highest standards and generally demand 33 per cent to 100 per cent of the legal MRL.
The bloc is demanding that fresh producers should withdraw some 262 molecules from pesticides being used locally.
However, local producers of fresh farm produce argue that Kenya’s climatic conditions are far removed from the situation in Europe. The move, they say, will therefore harm Kenya’s agriculture by discouraging modern agricultural technology regardless of its safety.
He said if Parliament passes the proposed changes, the ongoing agricultural revolution in Kenya will be disrupted, and crops will be exposed to various pests and diseases.
“If these demands are adopted, how are we going to survive? How are we going to deal with tuta absoluta (a highly destructive insect pest) in tomatoes, aphids in maize, potato blight in potatoes, and even mosquitoes?” he asked.
If Parliament passes the motion, which is currently awaiting its second reading, the producers fear that the proposed changes will affect the country’s agricultural policy. This, they said, will also see the automatic adoption of farming practices that are not favourable in Kenya.
“We growers at FPC Kenya feel that there is a sinister motive in the proposed changes that are in the form of a blanket adoption of the European Union’s climate change strategy, and all its consequent implementations,” Ojepat told journalists in during a press conference in Nairobi. He argued that the petition in Parliament is sponsored by foreign and local non-governmental organisations for selfish reasons.
Parliament’s move will effectively ban any product that is banned in Europe. This, stakeholders say, is not a unanimous stand around the world, with most countries moving to the World Trade Organization to seek to overturn this policy. Kenya, ironically, is among these countries.
“What the health committee does not appear to have realised is that Europe has abandoned science-based assessments, and these bans are not about food safety issues, but part of a comprehensive EU strategy to slash agricultural inputs — now by a further 50 per cent cut in pesticide use and 20 per cent in fertiliser use,” says Ojepat.
The FPC Kenya boss said producers feel the process should have been more consultative before the Bill was taken to Parliament.
He said that for a country that is perennially in food deficit such as Kenya, reduction of pesticides will result in a further decline of its production capacity that stands at below 50 per cent.
Croplife Kenya CEO Eric Kimung’unyi mentioned that the bone of contention is in Kenya’s adoption of the CODEX, a food safety move, which the EU is not directly part of.
“CODEX is responsible for ensuring pesticides do not harm human health. It sets the global standards for each approved pesticide. These are set through MRLs that are safe in human food. The EU’s move surprises all of us,” he said.
Image – © Codex Alimentarius
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