Only scientifically-proven pest controls will reduce food losses

Nowadays, in Kenya, on mapping the losses on newer data, we are losing 70 to 90 percent of our food and crops to pests. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

It only gets more painful seeing how many Kenyans we are willing to starve to ill-health and death, or push into poverty, on the bizarre twists of the world’s shift from science to politics in crop protection.

This is the debate that authorities and farmers should worry about in efforts to reduce losses of food to pests.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao) estimates, historically, put the world’s losses of food to pests at 40 percent. The losses, if managed, are already enough to end hunger, and reduce our food prices everywhere, by just clawing back some food from the whiteflies, Fall Armyworm, wireworms and plant viruses.

Instead, the dial is moving in the opposite direction for Kenya.

Our rising temperatures have accelerated the speed of pest breeding. Scientists explain that insects need a set amount of heat energy to grow.

Up the heat, and everything gets faster: Their hatching time, their growth time, the time before they lay eggs. And when a pest laying 50 eggs per generation moves from one generation to two in the same time span, you get 2,500 additions — and then 125,000 extra as it speeds up to three.

Most of our bugs have gone from one to over five generations a season. The magnification is huge. And the same heat rises have accelerated the growth of plant viruses, bacteria and fungi.

Then, in addition to climate change, globalisation has brought to Africa one of the world’s worst pests — still a quarantine pest on exports to Europe — the thrip, from 2004. Just that one pest, now across our nation, is destroying as much as 80 percent of many crops: And there are many other new, imported, destructive pests, from the Fall Armyworm to the Apple Snail.

As a result, that old 40 percent loss is long gone. Nowadays, in Kenya, on mapping the losses on newer data, we are losing 70 to 90 percent of our food and crops to pests. We are not alone, with recent global estimates suggesting the whole world is losing 70 percent.

But the global average has been driven up by the scale of losses in Africa.

As if things could get worse, many of our pest control chemicals are being banned without scientific evidence of risk, often on claims they may possibly affect our reproduction — by affecting our hormones, in something called endocrine disruption. It’s group speak, with normally zero evidence, and an absence of context— endocrine disruptors include sunlight, darkness, all wifi networks, your mobile phone, most organic fruits and vegetables and many medicines.

And, just for joy, those suspected endocrine disruptors include neem and pyrethrum, which were our biggest biological alternatives for pest control. So, go thrips: We can’t be bothered with science in food security, so the food is all yours.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.