Unpacking the public petition to remove harmful pesticides from the Kenyan market
A growing population, the need to export and the emergence of new pests are cited as the main reasons for the proliferation of agrochemicals in Kenya, some of which have been deemed harmful to humans and the environment.
Gaps in the country’s legislation have encouraged the misuse and abuse of pesticides, resulting in the use of contraband, banned or even obsolete products.
This sparked a petition presented to the country’s parliament by a cross-section of civil society groups led by a lawmaker, seeking to ban harmful pesticides from the Kenyan market.
“Our food security is compromised by harmful agricultural chemicals exceeding the levels allowed by European authorities,” said Uasin Gishu representative Gladys Boss Shollei, who is at the forefront of the push. “We need laws that protect our citizens. “
The misuse and overuse of pesticides has been blamed for the increase in cases of cancer, respiratory, cardiovascular and nervous system diseases in the country. Other adversities include loss of biodiversity (especially birds) and arthropods.
The petitioners called for an immediate ban on all products on the Kenyan market classified as carcinogens, mutagens, endocrine disruptors and neurotoxicants. They also recommend the withdrawal of all harmful and toxic pesticides based on the active ingredients used, as well as the establishment of a system for monitoring pesticide use in the country.
According to Shollei, the volume of pesticide use in Kenya has more than doubled in four years, from 6,400 tonnes in 2015 to 15,600 tonnes in 2018. The increase in pesticide use has not been accompanied by guarantees necessary to control their application.
Experts in the report of the parliamentary committee that deliberated on the issue note that there were 24 products on the Kenyan market classified as carcinogenic, 24 were classified as mutagenic and 35 endocrine disruptors. A total of 140 products were classified as neurotoxic, and many of those which showed apparent effects on reproductive toxicity amounted to 262.
These products have been banned in the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union.
Fruits and vegetables sampled in the Kenyan market were found to be contaminated with pesticide residues, some of which exceeded the permitted limits. These included dimethoate, bifenthrin, metribuzin, cyromazine, metalaxyl, and pyrimethamil. The mango contained thiabendazole and contained heavy metals with a concentration of lead.
Some active ingredients that are not permitted in Europe, such as chlorothalonil, carbendazim, acephate and permethrin have more of a chronic health effect and are sold in many parts of Kenya, note experts in the report.
Permethrin, a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide applied primarily to grain for postharvest storage, was withdrawn from Europe in 2003. It poses a risk to the aquatic system and is toxic to bees and other beneficial insects.
Carbendazim is a broad spectrum fungicide used to control rust, mildew, blight, and other fungal diseases in various crops. It was withdrawn from use in Europe in 2011.
Its effects on human health are a possible cause of infertility and can cause fetal malformations.
Dimethoate, an organophosphate insecticide, is used on coffee, potatoes, cotton and tobacco. It is possibly carcinogenic, the report notes, and is neurotoxic.
In the pesticide registration process in Kenya, it is primarily the purity and efficacy of the product that is tested, with little regard for human and environmental health data under local conditions.
Among the requirements for registering a pesticide in the country, the registrant must prove that the product has been approved for use in jurisdictions with reputable registration systems, such as US, EU, Canada and Japan.
What drives the use of pesticides in Kenya
Kenya’s geographic position along the equator, coupled with climate change, promotes the proliferation of pests and diseases throughout the year. The cross-border movement of pests exacerbates the problem.
“The growth of the importation of pesticides increases with the demand due to the pressure of pests and diseases and in particular epidemic events”, observes the report.
Recent influxes of pests and diseases have resulted in the use of pesticides. A recent example is the fall army worm invasion, reported in 2016, which resulted in devastating corn yield losses in parts of the country.
Export markets such as the EU and Australia prohibit the export of goods containing pests, prompting the use of pesticides.
An increase in agricultural activities has also been recorded in recent years. In 2018, Kenya saw a significant increase in exports to various countries, including the United Arab Emirates, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.
Hand weeding has also been affected by labor shortages, as more young people venture into non-farm activities such as motorcycle taxis and other services. Government pressure for a 100% transition from primary to secondary is also cited as a cause of labor shortages, which lead to increased use of pesticides.
The Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) was also cited as unable to fully fulfill its role as it was not yet classified as a Crown corporation. It is also noted that the PCPB has not adhered to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management.
It is further noted that there is a general lack of awareness and information on pesticide use and legislation among different stakeholders, including farmers.
In their prayers, the petitioners also recommend an amendment to the Pest Control Products Act to include a list of products that have been withdrawn from the market due to serious health risks for Kenyans.