Imagine a world where every bite you take is guaranteed to be safe, every sip you drink is assured to be pure, and every store you walk into is certified to be pest-free. This vision may seem utopian, but for one indomitable team in Kenya, it’s a daily mission.

The Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) is a government agency in Kenya responsible for regulating pest control products. Join Dr. Esther Kimani, CEO of PCPB; Madam Margaret Maumba, Manager in charge of the Education and Awareness Creation Division; and Dr. Paul Ngaruiya, Acting General Manager – Research, Strategy, Planning & Performance Management Department, on an illuminating journey into the heart of this pivotal organization. In this conversation, they unearth the intricacies of their mission, the dedication of their team, and the innovative strategies they employ to strike a delicate balance between pest control and the well-being of all.

Establishment and Early Days

In 1982, the Kenyan government recognized the urgent need for a regulatory body to manage the growing pest issues and enacted the Pest Control Products Act. This Act led to the formation of the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) in 1985.

Initially, the board was small and focused solely on registering pest control products, controlling imports, and licensing all dealers. However, over the years, its mandate has expanded, and it has now adopted a more holistic approach to pest control and food safety.

In 1990, PCPB expanded its mandate beyond product registration to include broader pest control measures. In 2000, the board launched its first major public awareness campaign on the safe use of pest control products.

Come 2010, the regulator introduced new guidelines for the import and export of pest control products, marking a significant step in regulating the industry. During the same period, PCPB achieved ISO 9001: 2008 certification, demonstrating its commitment to quality management and continuous improvement. Currently, the institution is working towards ISO 9001:2015 certification.

In its mission to expand its reach and enhance service delivery nationwide, PCPB has decentralized its services by opening additional offices in Embu (in the Central region), Nakuru (in the South Rift region), Mombasa (in the Coastal region), and Kisumu (in the Western region), in addition to the headquarters in Nairobi.

Not a one-man show

The successful operation of the PCPB is not a one-man show. The organization is led by a strong and dedicated team with an unwavering commitment to safeguarding the health of Kenyans. Their leadership has been instrumental in driving the Board’s mission, which focuses on the regulation and promotion of safe and effective pest control products in Kenya.

PCPB undertakes its functions through a Board of Management, Four technical departments, and a Corporate Services department. The Corporate Services department is responsible for providing policy directions on matters related to pest control products.

Currently, the Board is headed by the Chairman, Mr. Njoroge Kagwe. The former CEO, Dr. Esther Kimani, takes the executive role and has been instrumental in shaping the Board’s direction and achievements and is supported by a team of experienced and dedicated individuals.

Product Evaluation and Registration

One of the key components of the PCPB’s regulatory framework is the registration of pest control products. “The goal of product registration is not just to control but also to facilitate the availability of quality, effective, and safe pest control products for the Kenyan public,” explains Dr. Kimani.

Before a product is registered, it must go through a rigorous quality assurance process. “We conduct both ecotoxicological (related to risks in the environment) and toxicological (directly impacting human beings) risk assessments,” Dr. Kimani explained. “We also conduct efficacy trials.”

Interestingly, just because a product is declared safe at one point, it doesn’t guarantee a lifelong clean bill of health. “We register products based on the scientific information available at that time. However, we continually carry out risk assessments, even for the products that we have already registered. If we realize that the risks cannot be managed, then we will withdraw the product,” she added.

Compliance and Enforcement

Just setting rules is not enough; ensuring adherence is critical. The PCPB has a robust compliance and enforcement mechanism in place. The Board ensures that stakeholders comply with regulatory standards through inspections, sampling, investigations, and enforcement actions.

The PCPB also recognizes that a strong regulatory framework is only as effective as the capacity of its implementers. Hence, the board invests in training and capacity building for its staff and stakeholders. “We have invested a lot in our staff. We may be few, but we are highly competent in the field of pest control products. In fact, we are probably the best in Africa,” Dr. Kimani says humorously.

Transparent Governance for the Public Good

As a government institution, the PCPB operates under the principles of transparency and accountability. Dr. Kimani encourages individuals and organizations to access information from their website, visit PCPB offices, and report any issues they encounter. “We give information freely,” she states, emphasizing PCPB’s dedication to transparency and responsiveness.

Improved Regulatory Framework

The PCPB has made significant strides in enhancing the regulatory framework. This includes reviewing the Pest Control Products Act, which will allow for stricter control and management of pest control products. The outcome? An environment where only certified and safe products are permitted within the Kenyan food chain hence effective public health vector control.

To create a more seamless trading environment, the Board is working together with the tripartite to harmonize standards. The Tripartite is an umbrella organization consisting of three of Africa’s Regional Economic Communities, namely: the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East Africa Community (EAC), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). It consists of 26 member countries.

The regulator is also active in international standard-setting forums; participating in conventions such as the Basel, Stockholm, and Rotterdam. “At that level, a product can either be banned or listed under the Rotterdam Convention. If listed, an exporter will require permission from the importing country to use the chemical,” Dr. Kimani said.

To successfully execute its mandate, the PCPB is intricately connected to other regulatory bodies. Together with the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), the PCPB is a member of the Horticulture Competent Authorities (HCAs), where they convene to discuss emerging issues.

The Board is also a member of the National Horticulture Task Force, which addresses the challenges facing the horticulture industry. At the borders, PCPB works hand in hand with the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) to monitor every product being exported or imported into the country. This intricate web of collaboration ensures that nothing slips through the cracks.

Capacity Building and Education

‘Knowledge is power,’ and the PCPB has taken this sentiment to heart. They have implemented multiple training and education programs in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Horticultural Crop Directorate (HCD) among other stakeholders, focusing on farmers, agro-dealers, and consumers. These initiatives aim to share knowledge on the safe use of pest control products, ensuring that everyone plays a part in safeguarding our food and the environment.

Currently, they are implementing a program that focuses on training a specialized group of farmers selected within a given area to qualify as Spray Service Providers. ” So far, the training is free for the farmers as these activities have been implemented collaboratively with a number of stakeholders,” reveals Margaret Maumba, the Manager in charge of the Education and Awareness Creation Division at PCPB. “These groups can organize themselves and ensure that proper pest control practices are followed, especially in cooperatives or community settings.”

Harmonizing Pest Control and Public Health

In the ever-evolving world of pest control, PCPB faces a delicate balancing act between the crucial need for effective pest control and the increasing demand for environmentally friendly and safer alternatives. As the voices advocating for pesticide-free, organic farming grow louder, the PCPB is pioneering a path toward harmonizing both demands.

One remarkable step is their focus on biopesticides and non-chemical alternatives. Rather than inundating crops with traditional pesticides, just a few doses of these innovative methods are sufficient to destroy pests. They similarly tend to pose fewer risks than conventional chemicals to both humans and the environment.

The PCPB is also a staunch advocate for Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which is a holistic approach that empowers farmers to be proactive. Farmers are encouraged to become diligent scouts in their fields, transforming their farms into vigilant offices. By monitoring crops daily for early signs of trouble and promptly managing any emerging issues, farmers can decrease their dependence on chemical pesticides.

In addition, as Margaret reveals, the Board has developed a specialized curriculum centered on food safety, tailored to the needs of farmers. Dr. Kimani expressed hope that Technical and Vocational Education and Training Institutions (TVETs) would adopt this curriculum. By integrating food safety training into TVET programs, she said, aspiring agriculturalists can acquire essential knowledge right from the classroom. 

Combating misuse of pesticides

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that nearly three million people are poisoned and 200,000 die every year due to the improper use of pesticides. In Kenya, about 350,000 cases of pesticide poisoning are reported annually. One of the critical tools for preventing the misuse of pesticides, according to the former PCPB boss, is the often-overlooked label on pest control products. “It’s not just packaging; it’s a treasure trove of information,” she reiterates.

PCPB has simplified the labels and even translated them into Kiswahili. Dr. Kimani urges, “That label provides instructions about the specific crop for which the product should be used. It provides information on pre-harvest intervals, ensuring that the food you consume remains free of harmful residues. It even outlines who should handle the product and how.”

She shares a valuable nugget of wisdom about the significance of comprehending the color codes on products. “You may see a label with green, blue, yellow, or red,” she says. “These colors signify the safety level of the product. Green means it’s relatively safe, but it doesn’t imply that you should be careless. Yellow indicates reduced protection, while red implies that only trained and licensed individuals should handle it.”

We register products based on the scientific information available at that time. However, we continually carry out risk assessments, even for the products that we have already registered.

Dr. Esther Kimani – Former CEO, PCPB


A fair share of challenges

Like any robust institution, the Pest Control Product Board (PCPB) of Kenya has had its fair share of challenges. These experiences have not only shaped the organization’s journey but have also paved the way for its future. Due to budget constraints, the PCPB often struggles with insufficient resources to effectively monitor and enforce pest control products regulations nationwide. This impedes the Board’s ability to oversee and regulate all sectors of the food industry.

Additionally, certain sectors of the food industry resist the implementation of new pest control practices. This resistance poses a significant challenge to the PCPB’s efforts to adoption of safer pest control methods.

The regulator also expressed concerns about the sale of counterfeit chemicals in the market. Counterfeit agrochemicals can potentially harm farmers by contaminating the soil and damaging the environment. “Whenever we find any counterfeits in the market, we confiscate and destroy them. We work closely with the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and we prosecute those found selling counterfeits,” Dr. Kimani said.

The cost of disposal, as she elaborates, currently falls on the institution, but discussions are underway to transfer this responsibility to the manufacturers. To address the issue of counterfeiting, they have implemented strict registration procedures, assigning a unique identifier to each approved product. This number serves as a guarantee of safety and efficacy. The registered products are also publicly displayed on the PCPB website for convenient access.

For those tech-savvy consumers, there’s even talk of introducing QR codes for easy access to information. This ensures ensuring that consumers can make informed choices. “Some companies have adopted advanced packaging technologies, making counterfeiting nearly impossible. Strategic distribution is another tool in their arsenal, with selected distributors ensuring that products reach farmers through reputable channels,” informs Dr. Ngaruiya.

Pioneering Progress

PCPB is crafting a remarkable success story that resonates far beyond its borders. One of PCPB’s most striking achievements lies in its expansion of the number of registered pest control products. In 2011, the Board oversaw 915 of these products; by 2018, this number had soared to an impressive 1585. Furthermore, PCPB has made the comprehensive list of these registered products readily available on its website, advocating for transparency and facilitating the flow of essential information to stakeholders. This accessibility not only empowers farmers and industry players but also fosters trust and accountability in the pest control industry.

PCPB’s journey toward excellence includes collaborating with stakeholders to establish guidelines for registering post-harvest products and semiochemicals. This strategic partnership ensures that pest control solutions are not only effective but also sustainable, addressing the evolving needs of agriculture while minimizing their environmental impact.

As a facilitator of international trade, it introduced a significant change by prohibiting the use of certain pest control products on fresh fruits and vegetables. “The Board recently ordered the withdrawal and immediate termination of the use and registration of Chlorothalonil, Diuron, Thiacloprid, Pymetrozine, Propineb, Chlorpyrifos, and several other active ingredients, along with their associated end-use products in crop production,” reveals Dr. Kimani.

Its relentless pursuit of excellence extends to the realm of inspection. From 5,000 premises in 2010, the Board had expanded its reach to over 7,000 by 2018. This not only certifies the quality of pest control products but also ensures compliance with the law, promoting a culture of accountability in the industry. To further enhance safety, the PCPB has mandated the inclusion of toll-free numbers on all approved pesticide labels. This provision allows individuals to promptly report accidental poisonings. It’s a proactive step towards minimizing harm and maximizing safety.

In an effort to reduce bureaucracy and expedite processes, PCPB has embraced modern technology. Through the Kenya Trade Network (KENTRADE), the Board has streamlined the issuance of import/export permits. Clearing agents can now submit applications online through the KENTRADE-PCPB web portal, reducing the processing time from seven days to just two.

Crowning these achievements is the upcoming inauguration of a state-of-the-art laboratory. This facility is poised to revolutionize quality assurance for pest control products, not only in Kenya but also across the entire Eastern Africa region.

“In a world where imports often dominate, ensuring that active ingredients maintain their potency is paramount. The lab will not only establish standards but also make a significant contribution to the safe and efficient use of pesticides. Its completion is anticipated before July next year,” says Dr. Kimani.

Charting the Course for a Safer, More Sustainable Future

PCPB is not content with its present achievements; it is eagerly carving out a visionary path for the future. At the heart of this roadmap is a resolute commitment to harmonizing standards, amending regulations, and implementing them effectively. “In the coming months, expect to see a more streamlined and efficient licensing process for individuals working with pest control products,” says Dr. Ngaruiya.

PCPB also envisions establishing a Resource Center that will offer resources on pest control product information, safe usage, and training programs. It aspires to be a place where anyone, from local farmers to county officials, can access the latest knowledge and practices in pest control.

A Call to Responsible Usage

As we say adieu, Dr. Kimani acknowledges that pesticides are inherently toxic but emphasizes the importance of balancing food security and environmental preservation.

“Pesticides are designed to be toxic to living organisms, but we need enough food to feed our people,” she says. “Use these products responsibly and judiciously. When used well, they can offer immense benefits; when used poorly, they can harm both humans and the environment.”

This feature appeared in the October 2023 issue of Food Safety Africa. You can read the magazine HERE