Red alert as farmers misuse pesticides

Justus Monari a Farm Manager at Kisii Agricultural Training Center sprays vegetables against pests on their farm. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Farmers in Kenya are not using pesticides and other crop chemicals as instructed by manufacturers and State agencies, it has emerged.

Worse still, these same farmers do not wear protective gear when applying the chemicals, exposing themselves and those around them to dangerous agrochemicals.

For their safety, it is always recommended that farmers kit themselves fully with gloves, apron, and mudboots when spraying agro-chemicals.

This revelations emerged during the inaugural World Food Safety Day celebrations in Meru which was attended by senior Government officials and other stakeholders in the crops sector.

Agriculture, Livestock, Cooperatives and Blue Economy CAS Lawrence Omuhaka revealed that only 40 per cent of farmers seriously read instruction labels on pesticide containers.

“Only 56 percent of farmers with seven acres and above use the pesticides properly. The rest do not care. Only 16 per cent of farmers use proper protective clothing when applying crop chemicals,” said Omuhaka.

More worrying is fact that farmers were not following instructions on the number of chemicals to apply on various farms, with a large number either applying less or excess chemicals.

“They are either using too much or too less. We should use the chemicals as instructed so that we can effectively prevent pests and diseases that harm our crops,” Omuhaka said.

It is worth noting that the success of crop yields is pegged on proper use of the chemicals. Omuhaka said proper use of chemicals would result in increased production of quality food resulting in better prices in local and export markets.

Instructions too technical

“Food safety is key because it affects our own health. When you use the chemicals as required you are saving your own life and that of others. The outside market is very keen on the safety of the food that we produce,” Omuhaka said. 

[Sammy Omingo, Standard]

So why do farmers not use the agrochemicals properly despite the fact that majority come with instructions?

Interestingly, the farmers who spoke to The Smart Harvest complained that the instructions on labels were too technical for them to understand.

Merciline Karwitha from Abothoguchi West in Central Imenti said like most other farmers, she sprays her Irish potato crop, on two and half acres, randomly without reading instructions.

She said at the beginning her son who is now late, was running the farm and he used to follow instructions when spraying crops because he is learned and could understand the instructions.

“My son was a university graduate and studied agriculture. He was very successful with the crop and made a lot of money,” said Karwitha.

“The farm was doing well because he knew exactly what to do. He always used the chemicals to the desired measure. But I do not understand the instructions on the labels. That is why I do my own things.” 

Clara Mugwika who grows kale, cabbages and tomatoes, said she has been using a lot of chemicals but was not aware she was exposing herself to the risk of cancer or other deadly medical conditions.

Mrs Mugwika said when her husband was alive, he was the one tasked with spraying agro-chemicals. Her children are now grown up and live and work in Nairobi.

“My husband died three years ago and my children are in Nairobi. I am alone at the farm and I have to figure out things by myself. When I want to apply any sprays I call some young men from the village to do it for me,” she said. 

“But on many occasions, they are not available and I have to do it myself. I just do the way I see others doing. We need more practical education by agriculture officers from county government so that we can do it right.” 

Josphat Kirimi said he was not aware there are different sprays for kales, cabbages and other vegetables.

“On many occasions, I have used the same spray on cabbages, carrots and kale. I am surprised the agrochemicals people are now telling me that that is not right. I am sure I am not alone, because my neighbours also do this,” he said.

“The instructions on chemical containers are not that clear. The Pest Control Products Board should be more vigilant in educating farmers on responsible use of agro-chemicals.”

More importantly, Kirimi said the manufacturers of these chemicals should issue clearer instructions and in swahili and mother tongue if possible.

Applying excess chemicals

The issue of irresponsible chemical use has caught the attention of the Meru County and other State bodies.  
Meru County Agriculture Executive Carol Mutiga said many farmers were applying excess chemicals with the aim of making crops mature faster.

She cautioned against that saying excess pesticide residue in food crops has been linked to cancer. Governor Kiraitu Murungi confirmed that Meru had been hard hit by rampant cases of cancer most of it linked to food.

“There are no stringent rules on chemical residues on cabbages, kales, tomatoes and other products that we eat,” Kiraitu said, adding that strict control have to be introduced on chemical residues in foods consumed by Kenyans.

Robert Wachira from Syngenta, a producer of seeds and and agro-chemicals said their aim was to ensure production of safe and nutritious food.

Omuhaka said it was important that the pesticides are used properly as recommended by Pest Control Products Board, Agrochemicals Association of Kenya (AAK) and other associated bodies.

Eric Kimunguyi, the AAK CEO said as a player in the industry they were keen to create awareness on food safety and food security and promote best practices.

He said while there were regulatory bodies on the distribution and licensing of various chemicals, it was the responsibility of everyone to ensure stipulated guidelines were followed on their use, to ensure the production of quality and safe food.

“It goes beyond food safety. Farmers also have to protect themselves, the reason we are giving the safety gear,” Kimunguyi said.

“Food safety is a responsibility for everybody,” he said, adding that distributing personal protective equipment to 1,000 farmers in Meru was a good start.

Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) Board member Lawrence Kalewa on behalf of CEO Esther Kimani, said they will work hard and partner with others to train farmers on proper agrochemical use.

“We cannot do agriculture without pesticides. Because they are poison we must protect ourselves... We will not push profits, we will put safety and susteinability of our agriculture,” Kalewa said.

Chemicals on the wrong crops

He said some farmers were using chemicals on the wrong crops thus compromising food quality.

“Every pesticide is registered for a particular use. Do not use a pesticide registered for cabbages to spray on kales. If it is registered for tomatoes use it for tomatoes, not for everything else.”

The event that was organised by the AAK  in partnership with the national and county government and other stakeholders, was held to create awareness among farmers on proper use of pesticides.

Experts drawn from AAK and other partners trained 3,200 farmers on techniques of spraying chemicals on their crops.

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