Experts are meeting for a three-day conference to brainstorm deliberations geared towards transforming agriculture and food systems in Africa with a view to reducing synthetic fertilizer and pesticides use.
Themed, “Scaling up agro ecology and promoting ecological organic trade”, the specialists acknowledge there is a growing interest in the recent years for innovative and sustainable response to the challenges facing the food and agriculture systems.
Speaking on Tuesday during the opening of the conference, Prof. Ratemo Michieka, of the University of Nairobi said the biggest problem that government and countries in the world are facing are being brought about by pests.
The pests, however, he added, can be controlled if only farmers and implementers are able to use fertilizer but at the rate that is recommended.
“In Kenya and even in Africa, we do not educate farmers on what, how and when to use these compounds. Excessive pesticide use not only kills but poisons the soil because of lack of awareness on how much they should really apply,” he said.
He added that globally 50 percent of potential crop loss is due to pests, with insects consuming 5 to 20 percent loss of farmers’ yield and emphasizing that the biggest problem is the overuse in concentration considering that regulations dictate what amount one uses and at what level.
“Many a times we simply go beyond the amount needed. Acceptablerates must be administered with an expected residue left due to non-decomposition of the residue to non-active ingredients that cannot affect environment or kill anyone”, he noted.
Prof. Michieka said that individuals must therefore be taught on what to use, when, where and at what rates, noting that many people from third world countries would want to add double compounds in their soil not knowing it will actually kill.
“There is nothing totally wrong with use of any pesticides provided when administered rightly it controls certain pests, but there is something completely wrong when we don’t train the persons using themon the amounts, the time and duration,” Prof. Michieka said.
Despite Africa not using a lot of pesticides, on average use per area of crop land like the US, Europe and Asia, Prof.
Michieka said the continent should not go beyond unless there is an alternative.
The biggest problem with Kenya is that a lot of adulteration is done on our fertilizers, including imitation of substance with people adding fake products. When it comes to the quantity and mixing of non-fertilizers in bags, we must as normal Kenyans not mix compounds that are already genuine with fake products,” he insisted
In Kenya, he continued, that we are importing food from western countries that plant Genetically Engineered Crops and even if we say we will not change, we are wasting our time and thinking it can work giving an example of the clothing which we wear that comes from the BT Cotton.
For the rest of the foods such as maize, tomatoes, Prof. Michieka however, said the country has not started mass
production but the crops are on an experimental stage in the field and not ready to release yet.
“GMO comparatively is being investigated and researched on whether it has effects on human, and on food crops, we still have to do actual research and the government is working on it for specific crops,” he said.
For a country like Kenya, which still has virgin land, Prof. Michieka was confident that we can combine the use of
pesticides with an integration of natural plant breeding seeds, traditional ways of farming and biotechnology.
The population in Kenya is not the same as China thus we can be able to use integrated pest management and what is missing in the regulations from government is less education, less extension and less technology, Prof. Michieka said.
Robert Wager, faculty member at Vancouver Island University acknowledged that the misuse of pesticides is a global issue and occurs all over and thus governments should do a better job of educating farmers on use.
“When used properly however, most of the pesticides are safe considering some of the higher risk ones are being phased out now,” he added.
He acknowledged that a significant portion of the world is still on the fence on the use of the GE crops but he said
that unfortunately the global population expansion that are coming in the next decades do not really give the populace an option to not utilize that technology.
“This is part of a solution and we need to use the best of every form of agriculture if we are going to feed the world
more sustainably and on the same or less land”, he said.
He explained that Genetically Engineered crops are grown around the world and consumed all over and have a fantastic safety record and that according to the international standards, they are even safer than conventional crops.
“BT maize have a lower level of fungal contamination and toxics which are a real health threat in the region but also if synthetic fertilizer is used properly, it is what is feeding the world today let alone the billions coming in the future,” Wager reiterated.
He acknowledged that GE is a complex science and unfortunately not well versed and often governments are misled by emotive arguments as opposed to scientific ones and this he noted has a significant impact on how countries still living on the fence not considering technology thus putting pressure on governments generating fear with misinformation.
Prof. Tyron Hayes, an American biologist and Professor at University of Colombia said United states is the highest
consumer of pesticides despite the consumers of corn grown there being less than 2 percent while 11 percent is
“This pesticides are being used for economic financial reasons and not necessary for the public on food and feeding the world since 50 percent of all the corn produced gets wasted”, he said
Prof. Hayes echoed Prof. Michieka’s words that integrated pest management is an alternative especially for those who practice mono culture and are affected most by the pests.
He blamed Government agencies and agro businesses, saying they are not completely honest about the benefits of the chemicals in the plants saying, “we really have to be aware that those big organizations that loose in multi billion suits such as Monsanto and are banned in Europe, Africa is where they are going to turn to sell their products and that’s where we need really to be careful about how we proceed,” Prof. Hayes said
The conference stakeholderswho said they will radically change the direction of Africa’s agriculture and food systems, were urged to seize the opportunity to come out with practical and actionable solutions that can revolutionize the agriculture sector.
By Wangari Ndirangu