Kenyan farmers grapple with high pesticide use

Xinhua News Agency | Nov 10, 2019 at 2:24 PM

NAIROBI, Nov.9 (Xinhua) -- The average Kenyan farmer, including those in villages, uses several liters of pesticides every year.

The use has been on the rise over the years following the emergence of new pests and diseases as the east African nation grapples with harsh effects of climate change.

While the increased usage of pesticides has helped build a multi-billion shillings industry in the country, experts are worried that most farmers are misusing the chemicals thus exposing consumers and the environment to risks.

Unlike in the past years, the Kenyan farmer now uses pesticides at every stage of crop growth.

Before planting, most farmers are spreading their farms with herbicides to curb weeds. The pesticides are further applied once the seedlings are planted to curb transplanting stress and keep insects at bay.

The crop will later be sprayed to increase foliage for some, during flowering, at fruiting, before harvesting and after harvesting, the product itself.

"Without pesticides, you cannot get any harvest these days because of the many pests and diseases," Amos Karimi, a tomato farmer in Kitengela, south of Nairobi, said in a recent interview.

Karimi noted that since he started farming four years ago, this year has been the worst because he has used plenty of pesticides.

"I battled several pests and diseases and weather challenges that include a lengthy cold spell. The cold spell saw me rely on chemicals to beat blight," he said.

His predicament mirrors that of thousands of other small-scale farmers across the east African nation.

Agricultural experts have raised the red flag, noting the high pesticide usage is not only a threat to the health of consumers and the environment but it is also unsustainable.

"Most Kenyan farmers are misusing pesticides compromising food safety," said Daniel Maingi of Kenya Food Rights Alliance.

Maingi noted that the east African nation farmers have taken pesticides as the panacea to most of their farm challenges.

"So much chemicals are being sprayed on vegetables, tomatoes and fruits. The consumer is paying the highest price of this," he said.

And the environment is equally feeling the heat as most soils in the East African nation become acidic. The pesticides are also polluting rivers and killing beneficial insects like bees.

Silke Bollmohr, an ecotoxicological risk assessor, observed that while use of pesticides itself is not bad, a majority of those used in Kenya have harmful active ingredients compounding the problem.

"The pesticides are being peddled as the ingredient to successful farming without considering their effects," she said

Route to Food Initiative, a sustainable farming organization, notes that many pesticides are either acutely toxic, have long-term toxic effects, are endocrine disrupters, are toxic to different wildlife species or are known to cause a high incidence of severe or irreversible adverse effects.

"It is concerning that there are products on the Kenyan market, which are certainly classified as carcinogenic (24 products), mutagenic (24), endocrine disrupter (35), neurotoxic (140) and many which show clear effects on reproduction (262)," notes the institution.

The experts observed that as they spray the chemicals, most Kenyan farmers don't take precautions that include wearing gloves, mask and boots.

"Some also spray at the wrong time for instance during the day or when it is windy," observed Maingi.

At the center of high pesticide use in Kenya are the thousands of grove shops scattered, including in remote villages.

The shops have become places where farmers access all kinds of farm chemicals and hybrid seeds. Farmers normally explain to the shop operators the pest or symptoms of the disease that has attacked their plants and they sell them the chemical.

"One can even call from the farm and tell me the symptoms and I will prescribe a drug. If I have it, I sell them, if not I order from Bungoma. Most of the time it works," said Caroline Oduori, an agro vet shop owner in Budalangi, Busia, western Kenya.

Going by the number of the shops across towns and villages, the business is booming as Kenyans renew interest in farming. Experts called for use of integrated pest management practices for sustainable farming.