Kenya is a growing market for pesticides. According to the Agrochemical Association of Kenya (AAK), pesticide imports more than doubled between 2015 and 2018. Sales data shows that 76 percent of the total volume of pesticides used in the country contain one or more active ingredients that are categorized as Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs). Pesticides are classified as highly hazardous if they pose serious health risks or irreversible damage to the environment. Their potential to cause cancer, disrupt hormonal and nervous systems, lead to genetic defects or harm unborn children, are among the list of human health concerns being raised by civil society organizations.
Against this background, the Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBF) would like to present a special edition of the Pesticide Atlas. The atlas has been adapted from the original version published in Germany, to include facts and figures relevant to the situation in Kenya. Its contents will locate the problem of pesticides in a global context. For example, the influence of a few powerful corporations on national agricultural policies and the profit potential in selling pesticides to smallholder farmers in developing countries. The Pesticide Atlas – Kenya Edition includes new articles and hard-hitting facts from local experts and research studies.
Farmers and consumers in Kenya are routinely exposed to the risks associated with pesticide use and misuse. Likewise, Kenya’s biodiversity, soil and freshwater systems are in harm’s way. Mitigation measures are often not implemented on rural farms because they are expensive or not practical. For example, according to a survey conducted by the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) and the AAK, 1 in 2 farmers do not wear full personal protection equipment because it is expensive. Only 11 percent understand the colour bands on labels which represent varying degrees of danger. Fields, schools, and homes are situated close together and near to waterways, which means that buffer zones cannot be observed, and pesticides can run off farms into nearby water bodies.
Since 2016, the HBF in Nairobi has joined hands with community partners and scientific experts to amplify the concerns being raised by ordinary Kenyans. Through a campaign dubbed #ToxicBusiness, which is spearheaded by the foundation’s Route to Food Initiative, the HBF has dedicated resources to providing evidence-based analyses, raising awareness and sharing information with the public.
Whilst it is true that civil society plays a role in generating evidence and maintaining accountability, the Kenyan Government ultimately bears responsibility for ensuring the safety and health of its people and protection of critical biodiversity. Political will to address the problems is visible. In 2019, the Parliamentary Committee on Health called for a review of all pesticides registered in the country. In 2020, the Ministry of Agriculture, through the PCPB, kickstarted this process by considering technical evidence – submitted by the public and industry actors alike – on a shortlist of 30 pesticide active ingredients.
The European Union (EU) is the second biggest exporter of pesticides to Kenya and has a stringent legislative framework for authorizing and controlling the use of pesticides in EU Member States. Therefore, the atlas draws on processes and political developments in Europe as a basis for discussion and learning amongst stakeholders in Kenya. These themes include the double standard in pesticide trade, and establishing a local risk assessment regime in regions where the species and diet diversity significantly differs from the EU.
This special edition atlas gives new information on the use of HHPs in Kenya. It reveals which pesticides are most used and most toxic, as well as which crops require hazardous pesticides for pest control. Pesticide residues exceeding Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) have been found in food destined for export and local markets. According to a survey by the Consumer Grassroots Association, 9 out of every 10 Kenyans are worried about the safety of their food. Details about toxic residues in commonly consumed foods like kales, maize, wheat, tomatoes, and potatoes are provided.
Realizing fundamental human rights – to food, health, and a clean environment – is contingent on the implementation of integrated pest management strategies, biological alternatives and the overall transformation of Kenya’s food systems. With this vision in mind, the atlas provides critical evidence to legislators and the wider public about pesticide use and their potential risk in Kenya. It shows where progressive changes can be – and to a limited extent already are – successfully implemented.