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Implement team's proposals to rid Kenya of toxic pesticides

 Pests Control Products Board officials scrutinize some of the pesticides sold in Kisii town on November 24, 2022. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

The July 10, 2023, circular by the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) reviewing the status of some active ingredients of selected pesticides, considered highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs), is a positive stride and needs to be lauded by every citizen who prioritises food safety in Kenya. However, the number of active ingredients reviewed by PCBB is far below expectations, considering the high number of products in the market that are highly hazardous.

Since its release, the circular has created a lot of interest among the Kenyans, media and scientists. Call to action efforts have been directed toward restriction, removal or ban of most toxic pesticides and HHPs as one of strategies among others that are meant to reduce accidental poisoning through stringent regulatory control, awareness raising, training, use of protective clothes and better application of pesticides.

As Kenya's population grows and agricultural demands rise, use of agrochemicals has increased dramatically. Unfortunately, extensive use of pesticides, particularly those classified as HHPs, has sparked a series of alarming effects on various fronts. These hazardous pesticides have been found in water sources, food products, animal produce, and even human samples, such as breast milk. The repercussions are extensive and demand immediate attention.

There are a number of regulatory agencies with mandates to control and monitor pesticide use in Kenya including PCPB. However, the roles of these agencies have not adequately addressed the impact of pesticides and fundamental disruptions in ecology through legal mechanisms such as testing of every pesticide's safety and prohibiting use of unsafe pesticides among other preventive measures leading to toxicities among consumers. Moreover, very few studies focusing on highly hazardous pesticides have been conducted and the information is not easily accessible to policymakers and the public.

The recent actions taken by the European Commission to restrict certain plant protection products' approvals within the European Union underscore the global concern regarding pesticides safety. These actions further emphasise the need for immediate and thorough investments in effective and safer alternatives. Moreover, the reduction of maximum residue levels for export produce highlights the urgency for Kenya to adopt safer practices to safeguard both its citizens and its economic interests.

Since 2019, a coalition of like-minded parties, including Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya, Kenya Organic Agriculture Network, Resources Oriented Development Initiatives Kenya, and the Route to Food Initiative have continuously advocated for the urgent redress of HHPs in Kenya. Actions taken have include petitioning through the National Assembly Departmental Committee on Health for the withdrawal of harmful chemical pesticides in the market.

In September 2019, the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly and former Uasin Gishu Women Representative, Gladys Boss Shollei presented a petition in Parliament demanding the withdrawal of toxic pesticides, since every citizen has a right to be free from hunger, and to have adequate food of acceptable quality which is indeed espoused in the country's constitution.

Subsequently, the above coalition teamed up with a technical task force comprised of experts and distinguished scientists from various universities in Kenya among other organisations championing for food safety. A careful analysis of the available data by the team clearly illustrates the health risks posed by HHPs. Over the years, pesticides have been shown to cause serious human poisoning and a major public health problem going as far as 1990s when a task force of the World Health Organisation estimated that about one million unintentional pesticide poisonings with severe manifestations occur annually, leading to approximately 20,000 deaths.

The active ingredients are also known for their carcinogenic, neurotoxic, endocrine-disruptive, and reproductive toxicity effects, extend their harmful effects to people, pollinators like bees and aquatic life. Their presence contaminates water resources and disrupts ecosystems, painting a dire picture that calls for immediate intervention.

Amid growing concerns over the widespread use of HHPs, the scientific report made a powerful plea for immediate action. Armed with comprehensive scientific evidence, the task force advocated for the withdrawal of these toxic chemicals from the Kenyan market.

The urgency of the situation demands swift and comprehensive action to mitigate against risks to our environment, food safety, and human health. The report underscored the need for a unified and collective effort to prioritise the well-being of our nation and avoid potential disruptions.

The report identifies the following HHPs, with clear recommended action:

Insecticides:

Thiacloprid: This insecticide, commonly used to control aphids and thrips, has been associated with high toxicity to bees and potential carcinogenicity.

Recommended Action: Immediate withdrawal due to bee toxicity and potential carcinogenicity.

Abamectin: Used in various agricultural practices, abamectin exhibits high neurotoxicity and is harmful to bees and aquatic life.

Recommended Action: Phased withdrawal while introducing safer alternatives due to neurotoxicity and harm to aquatic life.

Chlorpyrifos & Chlorpyrifos Methyl: These insecticides are known for their neurotoxic effects on farm workers, potential harm to children's health, and high toxicity to bees.

Recommended Action: Immediate withdrawal due to neurotoxicity, harm to children, and bee toxicity.

Deltamethrin: This insecticide, used for its quick knockdown effect, presents neurotoxic and endocrine-disrupting activities, causing harm to beneficial insects like bees.

Recommended Action: Phased withdrawal while introducing safer alternatives due to neurotoxicity and harm to beneficial insects.

Imidacloprid: Highly used in various crops, imidacloprid is linked to potential reproductive and neurotoxic effects, bee toxicity, and high persistence in soil.

Recommended Action: Immediate withdrawal due to potential reproductive and neurotoxic effects, bee toxicity, and high persistence.

Pymetrozine: Commonly used against aphids, this insecticide is considered carcinogenic and poses reproductive toxicity risks.

Recommended Action: Immediate withdrawal due to carcinogenicity and reproductive toxicity risks.

Fungicides:

Chlorothalonil: This fungicide, found in numerous products, is classified as carcinogenic and contaminates groundwater, posing risks to amphibians, fish, and aquatic species.

Recommended Action: Immediate withdrawal due to carcinogenicity and aquatic contamination risks.

Carbendazim: Carbendazim is a systemic broad-spectrum fungicide, used worldwide against various fungal diseases of agricultural products. It is reported to pose deleterious effects on the human placental trophoblast cells.

Recommended Action: Immediate withdrawal due to the formation of toxic components, and harm to bees and aquatic organisms.

Herbicides:

2,4-D Amine: This herbicide, registered in Kenya, is associated with carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, and toxicity to bees, birds, and aquatic life.

Recommended Action: Immediate withdrawal due to carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, and harm to bees and aquatic life.

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