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Sh50.9b plan to combat pollution


Plastic bottles at Gioto dumpsite in Nakuru. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Kenya is among seven nations that have united in a bold $379 million (Sh50.9 billion) initiative to tackle the toxic tide of pesticide and plastic pollution in agriculture.

Ecuador, India, Kenya, Laos, Philippines, Uruguay, and Vietnam have joined forces to reduce the environmental impact of the agricultural sector.

Data from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) shows that chemicals play a crucial role in farming, with nearly 4 billion tonnes of pesticides and 12 billion kilogrammes of agricultural plastics used every year.

Despite their benefits for food yields, these chemicals pose significant risks to human health and the environment. As many as 11,000 people die from the toxic effects of pesticides annually, and chemical residues can degrade ecosystems, diminishing soil health and farmers’ resilience to climate change.

The open burning of agricultural plastics also contributes to an air pollution crisis that causes one in nine deaths worldwide.

Dangerous pesticides and poorly handled agricultural plastics unleash harmful persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that linger in our environment, contaminating air, water, and food. Despite their dangers, these inputs remain enticingly cheap, leaving farmers with little motivation to embrace safer alternatives.

The Financing Agrochemical Reduction and Management Programme (FARM), led by UNEP with financial support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), seeks to change that, elaborating the business case for banks and policymakers to reorient policy and financial resources towards farmers. This aims to help them adopt low- and non-chemical alternatives to toxic agrochemicals and facilitate a transition towards better practices.

Anil Sookdeo, the Chemicals Coordinator at the GEF, said the five-year programme is projected to prevent over 51,000 tonnes of hazardous pesticides and over 20,000 tonnes of plastic waste from being released. Additionally, it will avoid 35,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and protect over three million hectares of land from degradation.

“Our current agricultural system relies on harmful chemicals; this is not necessary. FARM offers a powerful alternative model, empowering farmers with the knowledge and resources to transition to sustainable practices that safeguard our health and environment and also boost yields and profits,” said Sookdeo.

The FARM programme will support government regulation to phase out POPs-containing agrochemicals and agri-plastics and adopt better management standards. 

Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, Director of UNEP’s Industry and Economy Division, emphasised that food productivity and safety rely on identifying better practices and safer alternatives to highly hazardous pesticides.

“Adoption is key to scaling these alternatives. There is no real option other than a strong, coordinated response to the pollution crisis,” said Aggarwal-Khan.

The FARM launch event convened representatives from all seven countries, with over 100 partners and stakeholders directly involved in the programme, including public and private banks, policymakers, farmer cooperatives, agrochemical and plastic manufacturers, international organisations, civil society, academia, and retailers. 

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