Stakeholders say if blanket bans on pesticides were effected, crops could be overrun by new pest species, thereby reducing productivity and putting Kenya’s food security at risk
There is heightened anxiety in the horticultural industry amid fears that proposed new laws on the use of certain pesticides may reduce productivity and compromise Kenya’s food security.
This follows the tabling, in Parliament, of a petition by Uasin Gishu Woman Representative, Gladys Boss Shollei that calls for the banning of pesticides. She claims pesticides are not only harmful to humans and the environment, the products are not authorized for use in the EU. It is however noted that the products are still registered for use in other countries of similar regulatory regime such as Canada, Australia and USA.
Shollei’s petition was tabled to Parliament on behalf of the Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya (BIBA-K), the Kenya Organic Agricultural Network (KOAN), the Resources Oriented Development Initiative (RODI-Kenya) and the Route to Food Initiative (RTFI).
The Parliamentary committee on health deliberated on the contents of Shollei’s Petition 70 of 2019 and came up with a number of recommendations, most of which advocate the banning of certain pesticides. There are now fears from the growers that that if such recommendations of the reports are adopted by Parliament, the impact on food production and export produce in Kenya will be detrimental.
It is noted from the report that the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) and the Agrochemicals Association of Kenya (AAK), have both made submissions to the health committee and sounded the alarm to the effect that if blanket bans on pesticides were effected, crops could be overrun by new pest species, thereby reducing productivity. Reduced productivity means that Kenya’s food security will be at risk.
While PCPB is a government agency charged with the regulation of pest control products, AAK is a membership organization bringing together various stakeholders in the agrochemicals industry — including firms concerned with the manufacture, importation, formulation, distribution, and use of pest control products.
Controversial EU standards
Of immediate concern by the two bodies is the fact that the campaign to ban the pesticides is being driven by the European Union (EU), which they claim is introducing controversial new standards that are not in sync with the rest of the world. The move puts Kenya in a dilemma as it not only jeopardises Kenya’s exports to the EU, but also has the potential of opening up the country to imports from countries that have not ratified the bans. This will even worsen the food safety against the goal of regulators.
The EU has set certain goals aimed at reducing pesticide use and encourages a shift to a more organic production of crops. The Union’s Farm to Fork strategy calls for the achievement by 2030 of various targets that include a reduction of chemical pesticides and antimicrobials (antibiotics) for livestock and aquaculture by 50 per cent, a reduction of fertilizers by 20 per cent, and increased organic farming by 25 per cent.
The decision by EU to change policies towards actualization of their strategy should not be a copy and paste to countries, especially in the tropics where pests to be controlled are not those that are not found in temperate zones. In a presentation to industry stakeholders on June 23, Joel Mutai, the regulatory manager at AAK, noted that the EU is using the Hazard assessment criteria as opposed to risk assessment. Hazard assessment, he explains, only measures hazards, while risk assessment takes into account hazards as well as exposure to those hazards.
To drive his point home, Mutai argued that water might fail a Hazard assessment as “one can be choked to death by simply drinking or leads to death by drowning!”
Kenya’s pesticide regime, said Mutai, is among the safest and robust regulatory framework in Africa. Kenya as a regional hub, is an important entry point to Eastern Africa and is becoming a critical entry point for negative activists too.
Dr Silke Bollmohr, an ecotoxicologist, told the parliamentary health committee that the volume of imported insecticides, herbicides and fungicides more than doubled within four years, from 6,400 tonnes in 2015 to 15,600 tonnes in 2018, a growth rate of 144 per cent. “The value of pesticide sales in Kenya increased from $35 million in 2016 to $85 million, in 2017,” she added.
Poisoning of fish, bees
Dr Bollmohr’s report added that when it came to the environment, 317 pest control products were found to be toxic to fish and 231 toxic to bees. “The numbers might be higher as the tests are usually done with the European honey bee and not with bees in Kenya – like the African honey bee and the stingless bee – which has been shown to be more sensitive than the European one,” she explained.
She also criticised Kenya’s record keeping, saying that there is hardly any data on pesticide concentrations in rivers. “There is no data available in Kenya about the extent of pesticide residues in food in the local market. Although there is random monitoring of pesticide residues on imported products to ensure the MRLs (maximum residue limits) are not exceeded, there is no information regarding local products,” she added.
In their submission, PCPB said the increase in importation of pesticides in Kenya corresponds with increased agricultural production. “There has been an average growth rate of 4.14 per cent per year in the quantity of pesticides imported in the last 10 years,” said the report, adding that this has led to increased agricultural production to meet the national demand for food.
Ten years ago, noted PCPB, moderate use of pesticides could suffice, “but this was no longer the case. Farmers in Kenya have opted to use pesticides because of invasion of new pests such as the Fall Armyworm and Maize Lethal Necrosis, as well as demands from export markets.”
Different climatic conditions determine pest control strategies, explained PCPB. “The EU is a temperate region (winter and summer) where a plunge in temperatures, during winter, makes conditions unfavourable for pests, thereby reducing their population. By contrast, tropical conditions in Kenya favour proliferation of pests and diseases throughout the year. This requires different pest control strategies including use of pesticides.”
Approvals outside Europe
Many products not approved in the EU are approved in the US, Canada, Australia, India, Japan and many other countries that use risk-based evaluations, which take into consideration hazard properties of a product and the likelihood of exposure.
“In July 2019, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, and Uruguay raised concerns to WTO on EU’s implementation of Hazard-based criteria as non-tariff barriers,” said the report, adding that the EU approval process has been contested by WTO members as a barrier to trade.
PCPB is in the process of completing a residue laboratory, which has a section dedicated to the monitoring of pesticide residues in food commodities, water and soils. PCPB intends to use the laboratory to commission a routine monitoring plan of pesticides in food destined for the local market and environment. The data obtained will be used to make an informed decision on the approval of pest control products.
AAK, on its part submitted that crop pests and diseases contribute to about 30 to 40 per cent loss in yields. “It has been estimated that Kenya experiences an annual loss of between $170 million and $203 million. This is attributed to three invasive alien pest species in maize — namely, Chilo Partellus (the spotted stem borer), Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND) and Parthenium hysterophorous (an invasive weed),” said the AAK report.
It added that such losses would be difficult to manage without the use of effective and efficient pest control products.
AAK has since come up with the concept of Spray Service Providers (SSPs), where individuals were trained to offer private spray services and other advice to farmers. This service reaches more than 7,000 farmers regularly. As of June 2021, a total of 1,460 SSPs had been deployed in 16 counties. “This is intended to professionalise the service and thereby achieve greater protection for operators and the environment,” says the report.
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