By Felistus Mwalia, Programme Officer for the Route to Food Initiative
The use of pesticides in Kenya, gives Kenyans reason to question the safety of food. Research has shown that there are products on the market that have proven chronic health effects and negative environmental impacts (RTFI, 2019). The rise in cancer cases, different allergies and other non-communicable diseases can be attributed to the country’s food system, which is increasingly dependent on agro-chemical inputs. The drive to ensure food security has perhaps overtaken concerns on the quality and safety of our food. Government interventions are mainly focused on food production – increasing the quantity of food available – neglecting important aspects of food quality.
Farmers in Kenya, the majority of whom are smallholders who consistently produce more than 70% of the food we eat, are promised higher yields with the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Depending on external inputs for production is capital-intensive and not environmentally sustainable, meaning it is not well suited to Kenya’s smallholder farming context. Of particular concern is the toxic effects of some of the pesticides on non-target organisms and users.
Agriculture accounts for about 24% of Kenya’s GDP with an estimated 75% of the population working in the sector either directly or indirectly. As an agricultural economy and while promoting mainly conventional agriculture, Kenya’s demand for pesticides is relatively high and steadily increasing. In 2018 Kenya imported 17,803 tons valued at $128million. These pesticides are an assortment of insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, fumigants, rodenticides, growth regulators, defoliators, proteins, surfactants and wetting agents. Of the total pesticide imports, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides account for about 87% in terms of volume and 88% of the total cost of pesticide imports (AAK, 2018).
It’s remarkable that the volume of imported insecticides, herbicides and fungicides has more than doubled within four years from 6,400 tons in 2015 to 15,600 tons in 2018, with a growth rate of 144%. The increase in pesticide use requires necessary safe guards to control how they are applied. Safe guards include amongst other things, the provision of personal protection gear, training for farmers and local agro-vets on how pesticides should be used and adequate product labelling. The responsibility for ‘safe use’, is borne by both government agencies and manufacturers.
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