Kenya growers, scientists slam NGOs campaign on pesticides ban

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The devastating effects of fall army worm invasion
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Agricultural and industry organizations have called on the government of Kenya to intervene to secure due process in the country’s pesticide regulation, amid warnings that a current initiative by four NGOs could wipe out the country’s food production within months.

A move to secure a ban by parliament of 262 pesticides approved for use in Kenya would slash the country’s maize production by 70 per cent, create a ballooning locust problem and lead to the collapse of the agriculture sector, warned the growers and scientists.

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The calls come in response to a petition to parliament seeking the banning of the products that are currently being used to prevent the infestation of Kenyan maize by Fall Army Worm and to curb the locust invasion in northern Kenya.

The petitioners want the pesticides banned following a change in the European pesticide regulation, which has seen the EU abandon risk assessment as a basis for approving pest control products. Instead of considering the safety of products when they are used in pest control, as elsewhere in the world, the EU now approves products only where they are non-hazardous in all circumstances, meaning, for instance, that consumers could safely drink them.

“The consequences of changing our pesticide approval criteria, by default, without changing our current laws, without scientific assessments, and as an appeal to elected members of parliament who have no background on pesticide approvals, will be literally catastrophic,” said Fresh Produce Consortium CEO, Ojepat Okisegere.

“We lost 70 per cent of our maize production in 2017 to Fall Army Worm, which is now restored due to pest control. If we now ban the pesticide, we shall move back to crop devastation, in an environment where pest infestation is skyrocketing across our agricultural production,” he said.

The pest infestation rate for cabbages would move to around 98 per cent, tomatoes to 24 per cent, produce such as flowers, French beans and soybeans, to around 66 per cent, and 40 to 80 per cent on wheat and other crops, he said.

“Pest such as Tuta absoluta, which is notorious in attacking tomatoes can wipe out 100 per cent of the yields within days, and attacks whenever the host is available.  Female pests can produce up to 260 eggs in 21 days, while stem borer, FAW and cutworms have been the famous pests attacking our maize crops cutting our yields by almost half,” said Ojepat.

The ban would leave farmers grappling with pests like Aphids, Whiteflies, Thrips, Moths, and Spider mites, weeds and fungi’s that farmers, as well as locusts, which have now spread in Wajir, Marsabit, Samburu, Garissa, Isiolo counties and are already depleting northern Kenya’s food supply. Locusts can cause 80 to 100 per cent crop losses, leaving behind barren land. 

“The organic farming methods being pushed with the pesticide ban petition cannot beat a locust invasion such as this one: we need pesticides to fight them and salvage the little food that still exists,” said Ojepat.

Currently, through the Ministry of Agriculture’s consultation with FAO, the government is fighting the locusts with pesticides such as Fenitrothion, which is in the petitioners proposed list of pesticides to be banned.

“If we ban the use of insect pesticides such as Fenitrothion used to eradicate desert locust, close to Sh22bn worth of food produce such as wheat, maize will be lost this year alone,” said Dr Evelyne Samita, a member of the Entomology Society of Kenya.

Overall, the ban would affect crops and livelihoods in five agriculture producing regions, with Rift Valley and Central set to be the hardest hit, followed by Western, Eastern and the Coast.

“Just 10 of the pest control products in the list are used in over 20 crops spanning maize, French beans, flowers, beans, cabbage, wheat, potatoes, tomatoes, soy beans, onions, rice, bananas, and fruits among others. Banning these pesticides means production of these crops would be slashed,” said Joel Mutai Regulatory & Liaison Manager, Agrochemicals Association of Kenya.

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