Revealed: Kenya spends Sh11b to import toxic pesticides annually

Christopher Mutua Muoki spraying kales (sukuma wiki)  with pesticides at his farm in Makindu, Makueni County. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Kenyans spend over Sh10 billion annually on highly toxic pesticides that cause severe harm, to combat pests and diseases in crop production.

A report titled ‘Toxic Business’ released on September 13, analysed pesticides including insecticides, fungicides and herbicides used in Kenya.

It revealed grim statistics on how Kenyan farmers invest in products banned in developed countries because they cause damage to human organs.

The report shows most pesticides farmers are likely to buy in agrovets, contain cancerous substances. “Of the 310 pesticide products used, 195 products (63 per cent) containing one or two active ingredients categorised as highly hazardous pesticides, accounting for 76 per cent of the total volume of pesticides used,” the report notes.

“This indicates farmers in Kenya predominantly use highly hazardous pesticides, despite their known detrimental effects on human health and the environment.”

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) describe highly hazardous pesticides as a class of pesticides presenting high levels of acute hazards to human health and the environment. The products are also labelled to cause severe or irreversible harm.

Although official data on national pesticide use is not publicly available, the Route to Food Initiative (RTFI), a programme of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Kenya, obtained a pesticide dataset from a private market research company.

Statistics reveal that crops such as maize, wheat, coffee, potatoes, and tomatoes have the highest pesticide usage, predominantly relying on highly hazardous pesticides.

It reveals that farmers in Kenya rely on 40 different active ingredients to fight pests, disease and weed control in maize production. 83 per cent of these products, the report flags, are categorised as highly hazardous.

The report shows 72 per cent of pesticides used in coffee production are categorised as highly hazardous, while 84 per cent of the volumes of pesticides used by farmers to control pests and fungal diseases fall in the same category.

The control of pests, fungal diseases, and weeds in tomato production in Kenya requires 56 different active ingredients, where 89 per cent of the volume of pesticides used are categorised as highly hazardous, according to the report.

But as maize, wheat, coffee, potatoes, and tomatoes require the highest volume of pesticides, the report notes that it is not surprising that pest control costs are the highest with these crops.

“Maize, wheat, coffee, potatoes, and tomatoes in Kenya require the largest volumes of pesticides, with a heavy reliance on Highly Hazardous Pesticides,” says the report.

It reveals that Kenyan farmers spent ($16.43m) 2.4 billion to control pests in wheat production in 2020 alone. They also spent ($15.95m) Sh2.3 billion to control pests in maize production.

During the same year, farmers spent Sh10.6 billion ($72.7m) on pesticides. Of this, farmers spent Sh4.1 billion ($28.2m) on insecticides, Sh3.8 billion (26.4M) on herbicides and Sh2.6 billion ($18.1m) on fungicides.

While the report does not come as a shocker, initial reports conducted earlier had warned of high pesticide residue levels in food, exceeding allowable limits. However, the slow progress in implementing stricter regulations and phasing out toxic pesticides has raised concerns about human health and environmental impact.

In 2018, 1,139 samples of fresh produce intended for export and local markets, were tested by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS).

Pesticides were detected in 46 per cent of the samples, while 11 per cent had residues exceeding EU maximum residue levels.