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Farmers in fresh drive for ban on deadly pesticides

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A police officer on the alert as GreenPeace Africa activists protest out the main venue of the World Food Day celebrations at Makueni Agricultural Training Centre. They called on the government to ban pesticides containing harmful chemicals. PHOTO | PIUS MAUNDU | NMG

Summary

  • In Kenya, crop farmers have now thrown their weight behind petitions to withdraw harmful pesticides, despite their effectiveness in fighting pests that cut crop yield.
  • They have appended more than 12,000 signatures to a petition supporting the removal of dangerous chemicals from the Kenyan market.
  • The Pest Control Products Board has announced it will conduct a risk analysis of the chemicals sold in Kenya, following a directive from a parliamentary committee.

Around the world, farmers and health activists are pushing for a 50 percent reduction in chemical pesticides and a ban on those proven to be hazardous to health by 2030.

In Kenya, crop farmers have now thrown their weight behind petitions to withdraw such harmful pesticides, despite their effectiveness in fighting pests that cut crop yield.

They have appended more than 12,000 signatures to a petition supporting the removal of dangerous chemicals from the Kenyan market, seeking to pile pressure on Parliament to bar more than 200 of these pesticides.

Greenpeace Kenya, one of the organisations backing the petition, says farmers have a wide range of options for safe chemicals to control weeds and pests.

“Kenyans have been consuming food with high pesticide residues as shown in a study done by the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network and Eco-Trac Consulting. The study found that residue levels of acephate and methamidophos in kale and tomatoes in Kirinyaga County exceeded levels allowed by European authorities,” said Claire Nasike, Greenpeace Kenya food campaigner.

“The misuse of harmful chemicals was evidenced by the fact that acephate is only registered for use on roses and tobacco, but high residue levels were found on tomatoes.”

Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya (BIBA-K), Kenya Organic Agriculture Network, Resources Oriented Development Initiatives (RODI) and the Route to Food Initiative (RTFI) are some of the other organisations demanding the removal of toxic pesticides from the local market.

The farmers are pushing the petition through Uasin Gishu Women Representative Gladys Shollei, who had earlier tabled a similar one in Parliament in 2020 seeking the ban on harmful chemicals in the market.

Ms Shollei said only seven out of the 232 chemicals cited by the farmers have been removed from the local market.

She said the parliamentary Committee on Health has petitioned the Pest Control Products Board to review the remaining pesticides still in the market despite being banned in the European Union and America.

“Kenyans have an option of applying recommended pesticides like those manufactured from pyrethrum, which is safe to humans and the environment,” said Ms Shollei.

“It is unfortunate that some of the manufacturers collude with cartels to flood the local market with toxic chemicals endangering the lives of our people.”

Farmers who spoke to the Business Daily said they were working with agronomists and relevant authorities including the regulator on safe pesticides to control weeds on their farms.

They admit, however, that they are not fully informed about some of the harmful pesticides in the market, hampering efforts to curb their use.

The farmers asked the government to provide them with precise information on safe chemicals to control weeds and pests on food crops.

Weed control

“Cultivation of such crops like wheat and maize is mechanised and farmers need to be well informed on the use of safe pesticides to control weeds.

“This will enable them to sustain acreage under crop production and attain food security,” said Samson Kiptoo, a farmer in Mosoriot, Nandi County.

The Pest Control Products Board has announced it will conduct a risk analysis of the chemicals sold in Kenya, following a directive from a parliamentary committee.

The report tabled in Parliament last October by the Health Committee, which Murang’a Women Representative Sabina Chege chairs, raised concerns about pesticide use in Kenya.

The committee recommended that the Pest Control Products Board ensures that chemicals banned in other jurisdictions are not used in Kenya.

“Within 90 days of tabling this report, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries through the Pest Control Products Board to immediately establish the regulations on distribution and retailing of pesticides to ensure that only licensed and registered persons operate agro vets outlets,” said the committee.

The committee was acting on a 2019 petition by BIBA-K, Kenya Organic Agriculture Network, Resources Oriented Initiative Kenya and Route to Food Initiative.

The groups wanted 485 pesticide products banned from shop shelves, citing the irreparable harm they were doing to unsuspecting consumers.

Targeted chemicals

Some of the products, they argued, had been banned in Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States but were still available in Kenya.

One of the chemicals targeted for banning is the widely used 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2.4-D) — a key ingredient in a new herbicide developed by the Dow Company —which according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) “possibly” causes cancer in humans.

The classification of the weed killer was made by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

The IARC said it reviewed the latest scientific literature and decided to classify 2,4-D as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”, a step below the more definitive “probably carcinogenic” category but two levels above the “probably not carcinogenic” category.

Environmental and consumer groups, which are lobbying the US regulators to restrict the use of 2,4-D, have been waiting for IARC’s findings on 2,4-D.

“The country risks losing international market for some of its cash crops due to continued use of such herbicides like 2,4-D and Round-up believed to cause life-threatening diseases like cancer,” said Kamau Kuria, managing director at Coffee Management Services Mills.

He added that such countries like the US, Germany, Japan and Switzerland have warned against the importation of crops where such banned herbicides have been used to control weeds.

“It is vital for farmers to use herbicides approved by the pesticides control board and where necessary take soil samples to the Kenya Plant and Health Inspectorate Services to determine whether it has been contaminated by the herbicides,” said Mr Kuria.

According to the European Union Green Deals report, the use of pesticides in intensive agriculture in Africa can also impact the health of workers who have little access to training on plant protection and healthcare.

This has put the spotlight on Western governments, which ban harmful pesticides and chemicals in their jurisdictions, but turn a blind eye as their companies export them to Africa.

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