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Chemicals in veggies linked to low fertility

Every single morning, Nairobi’s biggest retail market, Marikiti, floods with retailers from different parts of the city. Vegetables and fruits from this market end up on a table near you – and this should give you a reason to worry, especially if you are a woman.

A new research shows consuming vegetables and fruits with high pesticide levels can be linked to low fertility rates. This is troubling, especially since it emerges that fruits and vegetables destined for local market are not strictly regulated.

The research published in the Journal JAMA Internal Medicine sought to establish whether there was a link between exposure to pesticide residues and pregnancy outcomes.

The research, which involved 325 women undergoing fertility treatment with reproductive technology, found that “dietary pesticide exposure within the range of typical human exposure may be associated with adverse reproductive consequences”.

The research among the women of mean age of 35 years found high intake of pesticide residue is associated with a lower probability of clinical pregnancy and live birth.

The research comes in the wake of another study done in Norway, which concluded that women who chose organically grown vegetables had a reduced risk of pre-eclampsia – high blood pressure and high protein levels in urine during pregnancy.

Some of the fruits that were singled out by the lead researcher, Dr Jorge Chavarro, an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, are spinach, peppers and strawberries. Those that were identified to have lower residues from pesticides include peas and avocadoes. Chavarro urged consumers to consider organic vegetables and fruits.

As at now Kenya has gaps in ensuring safety levels for fruits that end up in the domestic market. With Nairobi’s four million inhabitants, the need for green groceries is paramount, but are they checked thoroughly before sale?

Grace Mureithi, an agronomist, says it is true most farmers do not observe maximum residue levels that should be observed in their produce for the local market and end up misusing pesticides.

“Farmers are even mixing pesticides, compounding the problem and at the end of the day, you have no idea how many chemicals you are dealing with,” says Mureithi.

Dr Joyce Malinga, the director of food crop research at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), says while produce meant for export is subjected to stringent checks, this might not be the case for those meant for local markets.

“There are requirements as to when you should spray but some farmers may not strictly adhere to this, especially when selling to the local market. This calls for more farmer training,” says Malinga.

She says KALRO has done a lot of education but it may not be enough and other organs like the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) and the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate have a role to play in ensuring safety standards are adhered to.

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