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As World marks Food Day, is Kenya's food safe enough to eat?

The use of fertiliser and pesticide not only leads to the persistence of these harmful chemicals in our food and the environment but also the loss of biodiversity. 

Kenya’s government and the Ministry of Agriculture want to shift farmers out of agriculture by commercialising the agriculture sector through a new agricultural policy, the agricultural sector transformation and growth strategy (2019 - 2029). 

According to Greenpeace Africa campaigner Claire Nasike, the policy also seeks to increase the use of chemical pesticides and fertiliser among farmers. 

"This is despite evidence from a white paper by Route to Food that some of the pesticide used in Kenya is harmful to human health and the environment."

The Route to Food report states that Agriculture accounts for about 24% of Kenya’s GDP with an estimated 75% of the population working in the sector either directly or indirectly. 

As an agricultural economy and while promoting mainly conventional agriculture, Kenya’s demand for pesticides is relatively high and steadily increasing.

"In 2018 Kenya imported 17,803 tonnes valued. These pesticides are an assortment of insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, fumigants, rodenticides, growth regulators, defoliators, proteins, surfactants and wetting agents."

Of the total pesticide imports, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides account for about 87% in terms of volume and 88% of the total cost of pesticide imports, the report showed.

The Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy Towards Sustainable Agricultural Transformation and Food Security in Kenya 2019-2029 shows no large country has ever achieved significant growth
without modernising its agricultural sector.

It adds that the country’s future depends on a healthy population and an economy that is resilient to the effects of climate change, global swings in staple food prices, and the effects of emerging pests and diseases like the fall armyworm and the Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND). 

Nasike on Friday said commercialising the agricultural systems will not only reduce the resilience of local communities to produce more food but also increase the contamination of our natural resources by chemical fertiliser and pesticide.

The use of fertiliser and pesticide not only leads to the persistence of these harmful chemicals in our food and the environment but also the loss of biodiversity. This poses a threat to the entire ecological system upon which food production depends on.

Nasike added, “The vulnerability of Kenya's food system has been exposed through the Covid-19 pandemic. The government needs to tap into the local resilience of smallholder farmers who produce more than 75% of the food consumed in the country, to build greater resilience into Kenya's food system."

As the world celebrates World Food Day under the theme grow, nourish, sustain, together, there is a call on the need for future food systems to provide affordable healthy diets and decent livelihoods for all, while preserving natural resources and biodiversity.

World Food Day is celebrated in more than 150 countries across the world, making it one of the most celebrated days of the UN calendar. The different events worldwide create awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and for the need to ensure food security and nutritious diets for all. The focus of the day is that food is a basic and fundamental human right.

According to Nasike, the Ministry of Agriculture should formulate policies that enable farmers to grow more food sustainably and ensure Kenyans are well nourished by healthy, diverse and safe food. 

"Such efforts will increase farmers’ income, build resilience and break the endless debt cycles caused by over dependency on large quantities of chemical fertiliser and pesticide."

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