“We must comply”, Sicily Kariuki

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By MUTUIRI GITONGA

It is a classic case of do-or- die for French bean exports from Kenya. The European Union team that is monitoring compliance with pesticides residues is coming to Nairobi in November to assess if the country is ready to be erased from the red line. If not, a ban is imminent.

This is the message that came out of a stakeholders meeting in August, in which the Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Sicily Kariuki, read the riot act and told the institutions mandated with crafting an action plan to save the crop to present a lasting solution.

‘If it means stopping use of chemicals, banning culpable exporters, stopping errant growers and agents, just do it”, Mrs Kariuki said in a non-nonsense address to the keenly listening participants.

Leading the pack were representatives from the Pesticides Initiative Programme of Coleacp , and the USAID Kenya Horticulture Competiveness Programme – that are funding activities geared towards resolving the impasse.

The heads of the Competent Authority members chaired by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) managing director Dr James Onsando, his Horticultural Crops Development Authority (HCDA) counterpart Dr Alfred Serem, Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK) chief executive officer Dr Stephen Mbithi and the acting Pest Control Products Board boss Mr Peter Opiyo gave their respective doses.

Pulling no punches, Mrs Kariuki was categorical on what the industry needs to do, and pledged government support, to get Kenya out of the mess. “We don’t have a choice. They have a choice to take or not to take peas from Kenya”, she said.

“Our problem is not high application of pesticides”, said Dr Mbithi, but “lack of data from Kephis to show the EU that our produce doesn’t have higher than allowed pesticides levels”.

The country has up to November to submit 8,000 samples, a massive and costly exercise that must be undertaken to get a clean bill of health. Kephis has acquired a Ksh 46 million state-of the art- testing kit that will be used for generation of the data and officers are being trained locally and abroad for skills needed to handle the technology.

The heads have recommended an action plan which entails suspending licenses of errant exporters, compiling a list of recommended pesticides and encouraging use of Integrated Pest Management systems to avoid detection of residues.

A grower for an exporter is the new approach to ensuring that farmers produce for a seller who has been allowed by HCDA to send clean beans to the markets. The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) has been mandated to experiment on a cocktail of pesticides and provide the sector with what works best, and for a lasting solution come up with disease- resistant varieties. The list of recommended pesticides and their right combinations should be ready by year end.

Dr Onsando recommended that the Ministry of Agriculture, using powers bestowed on the Cabinet Secretary withdrawals pesticides that are giving the industry sleepless nights. Dimethoate and Chlorophyriphos, were cited as among the four main molecules that have compositions which lead to high MRLs.

HCDA, tasked with enhancing traceability, has cancelled the licences of exporters who have had problems meeting the threshold levels, has roped in county security chiefs and county agricultural officers to ensure enforcement. Governors too are set to be involved in the quest for compliance.

In the next issue, HortiNews will publish a blow-by-blow account of the drastic measures the Competent Authority has put in place to ensure that come December 31, Kenya will be out of the woods. To participate in the focus, drop us a line;news@hortinews.co.ke.