Kenya shouldn't import pesticides that are banned in other countries

In 2018 Kenya imported 17,803 tonnes of pesticides. [iStockphoto]

Given the nature of the Kenyan economy, pesticides have increasingly been used to boost agricultural production. However, there have been double standards in the international trade of pesticides and their active ingredients.

A report by Route to Food in 2019 found that about 32 per cent of pesticides allowed for use in Kenya have been withdrawn from the European Market and banned in the European Union for reasons related to their potential chronic health effect, high toxicity to bees and fish as well as persistence in the environment.

It’s estimated that 75 per cent of Kenya’s population is either directly or indirectly involved in agriculture. Kenya, being among low and middle-income countries (LMICs), remains prone to receiving pesticides that have been banned or are not approved in the developed world, such as in the European Union (EU), for environmental and health reasons.

This also extends to pesticides and pesticide-active ingredients which are developed by corporations in some developed countries but are manufactured by these corporations outside their countries for sale to other parts of the world. 

Globally, according to World Health Organisation, about nine million deaths are related to environmental pollution, some of them due to excessive use of pesticides. The value chains of pesticides are found everywhere in the food, water and air. Some of these pesticides have been linked to chronic and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, osteoporosis, chronic lung disease, stroke and heart disease

Some of the companies that dominate the global pesticide trade include Bayer, BASF, Syngenta and Monsanto, among others. According to a recent study on Double Standards and Highly Hazardous Pesticides, released by Pesticide Action Network (PAN Germany), Bayer alone has developed and/or brought to the market 22 extremely or highly toxic pesticides active ingredients. On the other hand, BASF has developed and/or brought to market three highly hazardous active ingredients.

At least 28 active ingredients manufactured by these two companies have been found in markets in Brazil and South Africa. Further, the report found that about 35 per cent of pesticide sales in 2018 by big corporations were from highly hazardous pesticides. Interestingly, the sales were mainly to the so-called low and middle-income countries. Moreover, EU countries approved the export of more than 81,000 tonnes of pesticides in the same year, including active ingredients that have been banned in the EU.

In 2018 alone, Kenya imported 17,803 tonnes of pesticides worth 128 million dollars ranging from insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, fumigants, rodenticides, growth regulators, defoliators, proteins, surfactants and wetting agents.

While countries in the EU are increasingly protecting their citizens and environment from highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs), their dangers are increasingly being accepted in Kenya by allowing their importation and use thereby increasingly exposing our farmers, farm workers and other vulnerable groups – children, pregnant women and the elderly in the communities.

Some of these pesticides such as chlorpyrifos can affect learning abilities in children and have been linked to acute leukaemia in children. Bifenthrin has been found to have carcinogenic properties while Acephate is suspected to disrupt the endocrine system.

Despite being aware of the adverse effects of HHPs companies continue to produce and market pesticides and pesticide-active ingredients banned or not approved in other countries

Most people (users) in LMICs are not able to read and interpret the label and in most cases, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) may be limited due to certain factors. As such, the notion that highly hazardous pesticides are safe when used appropriately is simply an illusion.

It is no doubt that double standards in the global trade of highly hazardous pesticides have led to global health and environmental crisis and is a matter that requires urgent attention. 

We need a global ban on the production, storage and export of highly hazardous active ingredients. Countries that have banned these pesticides should not allow them to be exported to other countries. At the same time, importing countries like Kenya should ban all imports of pesticides banned in other countries to protect humans and the environment.

The government needs to impose import tariffs for highly hazardous pesticides which will make the use of less expensive and less toxic pesticides more attractive to farmers.

Pesticides are not only impacting negatively on human health but also disrupting food systems by disrupting pollinators that are responsible for food production like bees.