High pesticide residue levels compromise Kenya’s right to safe food, lobby groups voice

KENYA – Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, a German non-governmental organization (NGO), is calling for a ban on the importation of toxic pesticides outlawed in other countries yet still finding their way to Kenya.

According to the organization, which operates in more than 30 countries, figures show that one or more active chemicals in 76 percent of the total volume of pesticides used in Kenya are classified as Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs).

Such pesticides, which are now illegal in the EU, are allegedly connected to an increase in cancer cases, disruption of hormonal and nervous systems, and genetic defects in unborn children.

“Pesticides that are not allowed for use in countries such as Germany where they are produced are still exported to other countries. In Kenya, 44 percent of the total volume of pesticides used are banned in Europe,” said Joachim Paul, Director, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, during the launch of Pesticide Plus, a publication on toxic chemicals.

The practice of companies being allowed to sell pesticides not permitted for use in their own country because of their potential to cause high levels of acute or chronic hazards to humans and the environment creates a double standard, read the report.

“In Kenya, the use of these pesticides poses a great risk to farmers, local communities, and all consumers and should be addressed as an urgent public health concern,” adds the report.

Two years ago, research by the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) and the Agrochemicals Association of Kenya (AAK) revealed that samples of tomato and kale in Kenya included a total of 25 different active substances, 51% of which had previously been withdrawn from use in the EU countries.

60 percent of the samples had residual levels that were higher than those advised by the EU, reports Kenya News Agency.

An environmental advocacy group had asked Kenya to clarify its stance on a plan that would have banned particular pesticides as suggested by the EU in August of last year.

In response to requests for a review of the proposed ban from some farmers, Greenpeace Africa now asserts that the idea has to be reviewed before being adopted by Parliament.

Before the nation enacts a permanent ban on the above-mentioned pesticides, there needs to be a thorough discussion on the topic by important stakeholders, according to Claire Nasike, Greenpeace Africa Food Campaigner.

“Kenyan farmers deserve to know the truth about pesticides. The associations championing the use of pesticides have misled our farmers, who deserve the truth about toxic pesticides,” she said.

Nasike went on to say that while farmers and consumers should be safeguarded against dangerous chemicals that are hazardous to human health, the correct information should still be available to prevent a general condemnation of all inputs.

She points out that over time, Kenya’s right to safe food had been compromised due to exposure to foods with high pesticide residue levels, so the best course of action would be to ban toxic pesticides and encourage farmers to use alternative pest control methods, like an integrated pest management system.

“Kenyans’ right to safe food has been compromised, after years of exposure to food that is high in pesticide residues. 

“Banning these toxic pesticides is a step in the right direction to encourage farmers to embrace already-existing environmentally friendly alternatives, such as integrated pest management,” she added.

Numerous lobby groups echo the same sentiments

In 2016 the World Health Organization (WHO), while acknowledging the role played by pesticides in curbing diseases in crops, highlighted several health risks associated with their persistent use over a period of time.

The organization had consequently demanded that such inputs undergo extensive testing before being approved for use by farmers.

Another lobbying organization supporting sustainable agriculture asked for the prompt withdrawal of pesticides that were deemed hazardous to both human health and the environment in 2019.

The Resources Oriented Development Initiatives (RODI), the Route to Food Initiative (RTFI), the Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya (BIBA-K), the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN), and other organizations had raised the alarm about chemicals, calling them a ticking bomb in the nation’s food supply.

The partner organizations further claim that the Kenyan Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) improperly collects food samples for testing and withholds information about the real quantities of pesticides present, endangering public confidence in the safety of food ingested.

Boss Shollei, Uasin Gishu Woman Representative had also submitted a petition to the Kenyan parliament in 2020 asking for the removal of deadly chemicals from the country’s market.

She said in Petition No. 70 of 2019 that the decision was made in response to research showing that many of the fresh fruits and vegetables being consumed in the nation may pose a health risk to hundreds of unwary Kenyans.

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