Why Kenyan farmers must rethink pesticides use

Friday, September 6th, 2019 00:00 |
Pesticides control. Photo/Courtesy

Emmanuel Atamba  

There are two routes for Kenya’s food and farming system. One, the industrial model of farming which commodifies food systems and which has been fronted as the only way to produce plenty of cheap and easily accessible food.

The implication of this approach is damage to the same environment that feeds us and negative impacts on our health, particularly from the toxic agro-chemicals that industrial agriculture thrives on.

 The other route is a more sustainable form of agriculture and people-centred food systems that guarantee food production in harmony with nature.

This approach, however, seems less attractive to private sector players. So, which way for Kenya’s food system?

 The debate on the use of pesticides in Kenya is one that clearly illustrates the dilemma.

Under the government’s watch, the industry has been pushing for increased pesticide use, despite rising user and consumer safety concerns.

International companies generate less than six per cent of global pesticides sales in Africa, making the continent a key market for profitable trade. 

Consequently, access to safe, nutritious food is increasingly becoming a concern of many households. Ours is a broken food system that requires urgent intervention.

Industrial agriculture proponents argue that pesticide use is not a problem as long as farmers follow the instructions on the label. This argument is defective, particularly in our context.

Labels are written in technical language that many farmers cannot understand. 

An audit carried out by the EU Commission Food and Veterinary Office in 2013, found that growers have not always followed the label instructions of plant protection products. 

Label deficiencies were also identified. It would also appear that county government agricultural officers and regulatory bodies are not reaching a wide enough audience with training.

Insufficient knowledge among farmers about the dangers associated with pesticide use exposes them to harmful effects.

 The use of pesticides comes with responsibilities for the manufacturer, the user and the regulator. 

 The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) reported in its 2018 annual report, that there were pesticide residues in vegetable samples collected from various outlets and markets across the country.

Some of the most affected vegetables included kales, peas and capsicum. Ten per cent of the sampled produce had residue levels above the EU maximum allowable residue levels.  

The Kenyan farming context is not compatible with pesticide use. The average land size is about two acres, which leaves no room for buffer zones which are important precautionary measures – mandatory for all pesticides.

This is clearly not practical in our situation. Many farms for horticulture production slope towards rivers, dams and other water bodies, making it easy for run-off water to wash chemicals into water used for domestic purposes. 

There is no regular monitoring done by the responsible government bodies on the effect of these chemicals on the environment.

If pesticides can harm us, there is definitely impact on other species too, thus affecting biodiversity.

 Yet the government and private sector players continue to promote chemical pesticides. It’s sad that chemicals that have been withdrawn from the European market are readily available to our at our local agrovets.

False promises that these pesticides and other equally disastrous fertilizers will increase production, should stop. We need to think about solutions that work for us. The writer is a Route to Food Initiative ambassador

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