Kenya’s pesticides regulation meets global standards

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019 00:00 |
Pesticide control. Photo/Courtesy

Eric Kimunguyi 

Use of pesticides increases agricultural production by as much as 90 per cent. But it’s a food production practice that requires regulation and strict safety measures to ensure we gain in food but do not lose in human health or the environment.

Achieving that oversight is based on four regulatory pillars. 

The first pillar is a comprehensive scientific review and risk assessment, in collaboration with experts from other jurisdictions, which spans more than 200 separate studies of health and environmental impacts, carried out for six to nine years.

These tests include assessments of how a product is absorbed, distributed, metabolised and excreted by the human body; its toxicity level when ingested, when inhaled, to the skin and central nervous system, and across eye irritation, skin irritation, and neurotoxicity. 

It is also tested to establish whether it alters DNA, or causes cancer, gene mutation or birth defects in long-term studies whose reports must be submitted for evaluation.

Products are also tested for their effects on the environment, across land and aquatic animals, vegetation, water, air, homes, and soils.

What we test for in Kenya, however, as the second pillar in our regulatory protection, are residues, looking for any micrograms of pesticide left on crops to make sure these are below the international safe levels.

The maximum safe residue levels for each product and each crop are set by the World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organisation Residue Committee, at meetings that the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) attends. 

The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate then tests crop samples constantly to ensure the pesticide residues are at safe levels, alerting authorities where they are not.

The third pillar is constant monitoring of new information worldwide. The banning and the controlled use of hazardous pesticides is agreed upon under global conventions, such as the Rotterdam, Stockholm, and Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete Ozone Layer, all of which Kenya is a signatory to. 

Kenya automatically bans any pesticide banned under these conventions. However, if a pesticide is banned by just one country but other leading regimes continue to classify it as safe, the PCPB reviews the evidence and decides case by case.

The final pillar is ensuring safe use—stewardship—with Kenyan law requiring all approved products are labelled with safety instructions in both Kiswahili and English. To ensure farmers follow these instructions the proposed Bill updating the current regulations recognises that agriculture is now devolved and assigns county governments responsibility for agricultural extension on safe pesticide use.

That extension spans how to identify genuine pesticides, safely use, transport and dispose of them, and wear protective clothing when spraying to avoid fumes and skin contact.

As a sum, so stringent is Kenya’s pest control regulation that the country is Africa’s second largest exporter of fresh produce to international markets that demand good agricultural practice and absolute rigour in pesticide safety.  

There is no benefit in claiming risks not supported by science. The facts are that products are tested, all the international standards are applied, and pursuing a repeat of years of testing, or banning pesticides used in other jurisdictions, will simply cost us more than a third of our food production.

— The writer is CEO, Agrochemicals Association of Kenya

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