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Lobby group pushes for safer food production mechanisms

The government has been challenged to adopt stringent agroecological practices as a remedy to the worsening food crisis in the country.

Speaking during a Nairobi media workshop organized by the Route to Food Initiative (RFTI), Dr Martin Oulu, a don at Nairobi University, said the country is losing its biodiversity due to noxious farm inputs such as pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.

Dr Oulu who also doubles as the coordinator of Inter-sectoral Forum on Agroecology and Agrobiodiversity (ISFAA) said agroecology and other nature-based solutions to agriculture could be the silver bullet the country urgently needs to sort out the challenge of food insecurity in the country.

“Why should we import fertilizer and yet we could work with extension officers who could train farmers on how to produce manure and organic fertilizer in their backyard? These are simple processes which farmers, especially smallholders should be immersed into,” said Oulu through a press statement sent to the newsroom today.

Agroecological aspects includes a variety of agricultural methods such as diversification of crops, conservation tillage, green manures, natural fertilizers and nitrogen fixation, biological pest control, rainwater harvesting, and production of crops and livestock in ways that store carbon and protect forests.

According to State of Food Security 2021 by FAO, 12 million Kenyans were found to be in dire need of food.

In addition, the ISFAA coordinator urged the government to invest more in smallholder producers and local agro ecological food systems, which would establish a food web in Kenya that supports the production of healthy food, protects the country’s agricultural biodiversity and boosts resilience to climate change.

The UoN don noted that making the transition from conventional to agroecological agriculture and food system required a portfolio of incentives, but also the empowerment and participation of small-scale farmers in decision-making.

According to Dr Oulu, agroecology has been found to boost the yields of small-scale farmers, enhance their soils, and improve their health because they could eat a variety of healthy foods from their gardens.

“Besides, agroecology also reduces the cost of agricultural production because the farmers don’t have to spend money on expensive inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, since they’re using compost or farmyard manure from their farms, as well as practicing integrated pest management,” he added.

The university don has similarly challenged higher learning institutions that teach agriculture to change with time and adopt agroecology courses as a way of knowledge transfer and also to protect the endangered biodiversity.

In August last year RFI, Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya (BIBA-K), Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) and Resources Oriented Development Initiatives (RODI) had raised the red flag over use of agrochemicals by framers in the country terming them a ticking bomb in Kenya’s food chain.

According to the lobby groups, at least 32 percent of pesticide active ingredients that were registered at the time and sold in the country had been blacklisted from the European market after being found to have serious health risks to both man and environment.

Drawing from findings contained in the White Paper on pesticide use in Kenya and commissioned by RTFI, the lobbyists are calling for the withdrawal of chemicals with specific active ingredients such as Permethrin, Carbendazim and Acephate among others.

“It is disconcerting to note that the sale of these chemicals, many of which are not approved in Europe, is going on unabated with little regard to public health and environmental safety. Our findings show that there are 24 products in the Kenyan market which are certainly classified as carcinogenic, meaning they have the potential to cause cancer while the same number (24) are mutagenic, meaning these substances have the capacity to cause damaging genetic changes. Others have been proven to negatively affect hormones and show clear effects on reproduction,” said Layla Liebetrau, RTFI Project officer.

The White Paper further explains that there were more products than active ingredients since one active ingredient could be in different formulations registered by different companies in different products.

The active ingredient glyphosate for example, is registered in 39 products by 22 companies.

In addition, the findings showed that the products registered in Kenya that were withdrawn from the European market were mostly sold by European companies (75 products), followed by Chinese companies (55 products) and Indian companies (16 products).

The volume of imported chemicals in Kenya is reported to have more than doubled from 6,400 tonnes in 2015 to 15,600 tonnes in 2018 raising fears that farmers as well as consumers might directly be exposed to highly toxic pesticides.

According to the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB), there are 247 active ingredients registered in 699 products for horticultural use.

In 2018, Kenya is said to have imported at least 17,803 tonnes insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, fumigants, rodenticides, growth regulators, defoliators, proteins, surfactants and wetting agents.

And out of all the total pesticide imported into the country during the period, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides accounted for about 87 per cent in terms of volume and 88 per cent of the total cost of the imports.

Reports from the National Pesticide Residue Monitoring Programme (NPRMP) undertaken by KEPHIS found that 1,139 food samples taken in 2018, 530 (46.53%) had pesticide detections, while 123 (10.80%) had exceedances of set EU maximum residue levels (MRLs).

Similarly, according to the samples collected from edible greens, kales, peas and capsicum had the highest pesticide residue detections at 94.40 percent, 75.84 percent and 59.18 percent respectively according to KEPHIS Annual Report and Financial Statements for the Year Ended 30 June 2018.

By Samuel Maina

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