Death trap: China, Europe sell cancerous pesticides to Kenya

Picture of a man in protective gear spraying crops with chemicals. [Image: Mt Kenya Star]
European agrochemical companies lead their Chinese counterparts in exporting to Kenya and selling through hundreds of thousands of rural-based agrochemical stores, extremely dangerous farm chemicals that have been banned in other parts of the world, exposing Kenyans to an increase in the risk of diseases like cancer.

The companies are cashing on Kenya’s weak and slow regulatory system plus high-level ignorance of many farmers who have less opportunity to know which chemical has been banned. The agrochemical manufacturers and sellers who are heavy spenders in rural media advertising, largely in vernacular radios, use their influence to block the airing of information such as that of banned agrochemicals as this may hurt their businesses.

Instead, they influence listeners to tell the message of prudence use of agrochemicals yet for those harmful, they still hurt animals and humans despite being applied as recommended. New research done by several organisations reveals that the products registered in Kenya, that are withdrawn from the European market, are mostly sold by European companies, which account for 75 products, followed by Chinese companies with 55 products and Indian companies with 16 products.

The research further reveals that the level of exposure to this toxicity is on all and sundry as residues are found everywhere: in our food, our drinking water, in the rain and in the air. The research was conducted several organisations including; the Route to Food Initiative (RTFI), Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya (BIBA-K), Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) and Resources Oriented Development Initiatives (RODI).

According to the group, at least 32 per cent of pesticide active ingredients that are currently registered and being sold in Kenya, have been withdrawn from the European market, due to their serious potential impact on human and environmental health.

“It is disconcerting to note that the sale of these chemicals, many of which are not approved in Europe, is going on unabated with little regard to public health and environmental safety,” said Layla Liebetrau of the Route to Food Initiative.

“Our findings show that there are 24 products in the Kenyan market, which are certainly classified as carcinogenic, meaning they have the potential to cause cancer while the same number are mutagenic, meaning these substances can cause damaging genetic changes.”

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Imports doubling the bigger challenge is that agrochemical imports in Kenya are doubling every four years as more Kenyans adopt modern farming technologies meaning that the incidences and scale of use of these harmful chemicals will increase, widening the exposure.

Data from the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) shows that imports of agrochemicals more than doubled within four years from 6,400 tonnes in 2015 to 15,600 tonnes in 2018. Further data shows that in 2018, Kenya imported 17,803 tonnes of pesticides valued at Sh12.8 billion. These pesticides are an assortment of insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, fumigants, rodenticides, growth regulators, defoliators, proteins, surfactants and wetting agents.

 “Withdrawing these products from the market will reduce their availability to farmers and would be an urgent and signifcant step in trying to reduce the adverse effects pesticides pose to our health and food safety,” said Eustace Kiarii, CEO of the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network.

The groups say that while the Kenyan Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) irregularly takes food samples for testing, the actual levels of pesticides are not made available to the public, threatening our understanding about the safety of food consumed.

“Additionally, health studies related to pesticide exposure in Kenya do not exist. This means the extent of impacts of pesticides on the environment and health of the citizens, is not definitively known,” notes the White Paper on the research, ‘Route to Food’.

Poor regulation and mixed opinion in the government over the harmful pesticides came alive last week when two senior government officials differed on whether an active ingredient called glyphosate, which is sold by brand name Roundup by the company called Monsanto should be withdrawn from Kenya.

Roundup has been attributed to cause cancer in the U.S and Canada and subsequently banned. But while the Health Principal Secretary Susan Mochache for its removal from the Kenyan market, the Agriculture Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga has opposed its withdrawal, in a show of just how confused the policy on harmful or suspected pesticides is managed in Kenya.

 Lobbyists have now gone to parliament to influence policy in a move expected to be vehemently opposed by those representing the interests of agrochemical manufacturers and vendors. Gladys Shollei, Woman Representative for Uasin Gishu County who presented a petition in parliament said the first step should be to withdraw toxic products from the market, starting with those that are withdrawn from the European market.

“The food we are consuming, including fruits and vegetables that we all believe to be healthy, is likely to have harmful pesticide residues,” she said.

“About 32 percent of the active ingredients registered for use in Kenya, are not allowed in Europe. Most of the pesticides we use in Kenya are imported from Europe. We are growing organic food for export, but are seemingly less concerned about the quality of food made available to our people. This is not acceptable,” said Shollei.

The research by the groups reveled several harmful ingredients banned in Europe but their brands are sold in Kenya, backed by the Kenya Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) pesticides database for crops which was updated in September 2019.

Carbendazim is a fungicide that is not approved for use in Europe, US and Australia. In Kenya it is sold in seven products and is registered for controlling fungal diseases mainly in French beans and tomatoes but also in snow peas, squash, broccoli, onions and capsicum, in staple crops like rice, barley, wheat and in fruits like mangoes, citrus and pawpaw It is sold in brands such as Sherriff, Chariot, Goldazim, Soprano, Discovery, and Seed Plus.

Acephate is an insecticide typically used as a foliar or leaves frtilizer spray. Its breakdown product is methamidophos, which is not approved in Europe. Methamidophos is highly toxic to birds and honeybees, and moderately toxic to most aquatic species and earthworms.

In Kenya, it is sold in two products and is registered for controlling chewing and sucking insects in mainly tobacco, French beans and tomatoes but also in cabbage, onions, cotton and for the control of the fall armyworm in maize. Its local brands include Sinophate, Startthene Plus, Orthene Pellet, Lotus and Missile.

 Permethrin is not approved in Europe. In Kenya, it is sold in three products in crop production and is registered for controlling termites and stalk borer in maize. As dust, it is applied to stored maize and grains to control grain borer.

Its brand names include Ambush, Actellic Super Dust, and Skana Super Grain Dust Dimethoate was recently withdrawn from the European market.

Although it is stated in the registration database of Kenya that foliar spray is not allowed on vegetables, it is still registered for use on potatoes, coff ee, cotton, tobacco. Its brand names include Agrothoate, Danadim Blue, Domino, Ethoate, Hydgro, Ogor and Rogor Paraquat or paraquat dichloride is an herbicide withdrawn from many markets including the European market.

In Kenya, paraquat is still registered in four products for weed control in a wide range of agricultural situations. Its brand names include Hurricane, Herbkill, Herbstar, Parapaz, Partner and Gramoxone. Chlorothalonil is a fungicide that is not approved for use in Europe since August 2019.

In Kenya, it is sold in 19 products and is registered for controlling fungal diseases mainly in French beans, tomatoes, and coffee but also in snow peas, cucumber, and cabbage, as well as in staple crops like barley and wheat. Its brand names include Dakota, Rova, Katharina, Twigathalonil, Twiga Eponil, Koban Cherokee, Providence, Bravo and Compliant.

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