One of the sadder aspects of our development into a global village driven by technology and choose-your-own news mixes is the way in which views have polarised.
For, as the middle classes walk away from regular newspaper reading, and our youth set aside programmed TV for NetFlix and their own entertainment feeds, people are exposed less and less to news or different information, or even to differing views. It’s a movement into silos that is affecting us increasingly, but perhaps, this year, we shall see it have its greatest impact yet – when it takes our food away.
As a nation, we already struggle with food security. Likewise, we are classified as a water-scarce country, meaning that much of our food production rests on advanced water management.
But, now, we are also set to lose many and by some counts most of all the crop protection products that our farms and farmers have ever been able to use to stop damage to their crops from pests that can destroy anywhere from 40 percent to 90 percent of their harvests.
And that is set to be near catastrophic to our food security, so let’s be clear what food security means – it means producing enough food to feed everyone, all the time, and despite pests and drought.
Yet, in a rather unusual move there is an attempt by some NGOs to push for a total ban on pesticides.
The NGOs are committed to organic farming, which is a fine enough aim and we at the Fresh Produce Consortium are also in favour of organic farming, in the right circumstances.
But we risk losing a lot with such total bans-from food out put, to GDP growth and even jobs because of half-truths.
For sure, these anti pest control campaigners have thrown around the word ‘cancer’, as if none of these pesticides were ever tested.
The pesticides are all approved and in use in the US, and in Australia, and in numerous regimes where scientists galore have evaluated all their test results, over many years.
Yet these groups have exploited a change of regulatory regime in Europe to savage Kenya’s food output.
Indeed, they have played upon ignorarope on some new health or environmental evidence since Europe approved them for use. That’s why they are still approved for use in the US and elsewhere.
What has changed is Europe’s pesticide regulatory regime. Reams of chemicals are now being reassessed in new ways, and reclassified.
The new system no longer bases approvals on risk assessments, looking at where and when and at what levels a pesticide might present how much risk – as it previously did.
It now has a new approach called hazard assessment, which is based on zero risk. If there is a chance that any pesticide could cause any adverse effect used in any way at any time, it can no longer be used at all.
Based on a hazard assessment, no one in Kenya would be permitted to eat cassava, or use household bleach, or get into a matatu, or buy alcoholic beverages, or consume sugar, and the list goes on.
Zero risk is a decision Europe has taken in the face of many organic NGOs, and perhaps Europe can afford to do that, when it buys so much of its food from elsewhere.
But in Kenya, we use the same risk assessment methods as the US and everywhere else in the world, except Europe. So what those NGOs are close to doing is to getting parliamentarians to overturn our Pest Control Act and all its regulations, end our Pest Control Products, and then cheer all the way to the food queues.
Because cancer is bad and cancer has gone up and Europe has changed its regulatory system – so, therefore, let’s end our pest control, and end a third of our food production.
It’s so ruthless as to be amoral. But that’s the point of polarisation: people lose all perspective and all sight of any counter views or really of any consequences at all. We shouldn’t let that happen. Let’s, instead, be scientific about our pest control – rather than political – and keep our food secure, safely.
The writer is CEO, Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya.