Science iCafé – Pesticides in the Kenyan Market
On 17th November 2021, a Science iCafé prompted a vibrant debate on the issue of pesticides in Kenya. The event was organized to bring visibility to the ongoing political process. Namely, the review by the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) of select active ingredients, in response to the recommendations by the Parliamentary Committee on Health in their official report on Public Petition No. 70 of 2019.
The iCafé also gave an expert task force an opportunity to communicate the findings of a dossier submitted to the PCPB. The dossier reveals that damage that can be caused by toxic pesticides is far-reaching affecting farmers using these products, consumers in urban markets, the birds and bees that support our ability to grow food, and the water and soils that support life.
Some of the main debates from the forum include the topic of misuse vs. safe use, where participants raised the point that pesticide toxicity in and of itself, is not reason enough to ban a molecule, but rather that a ban should be informed by pesticides usage. This line of argument suggests that safe use by farmers is the only problem we are facing.
Another key aspect debated, was the implications of withdrawing pesticides in Kenya, and the effect that would have on food production, recognizing that even some biopesticides can have negative consequences. The task force stressed that the call for action is not a blanket ban on all products, but rather an immediate withdrawal of the most toxic, coupled with increased investments in holistic pest management strategies, through Integrated Pest Management and agroecology.
One of the most pervasive problems facing the country is the lack of pesticide residue monitoring data in food and the environment. We simply therefore, do not know the long-term epidemiological or environmental effects and we have little scientific evidence about what current pesticides usage has done to local bird, bee and insect populations and how it effects consumers and farmers.
A study done by the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network and EcoTrac Consulting found that residue levels of acephate and methamidophos in kales and tomatoes in Kirinyaga County exceeded levels allowed by European authorities. Moreover, misuse by farmers was evidenced by the fact that acephate is only registered for use on roses and tobacco, but high residue levels were found on tomatoes. This tells us, that our food safety is compromised and is sufficient motivation for urgent, political action.