Thirty-three per cent of pesticides registered in Kenya are toxic to bees and other pollinators, a situation that threatens food security, the latest report commissioned by the Route to Food Initiative (RTFI) indicates.
In its findings, RTFI states that a third of the registered pesticides in Kenya have been withdrawn from the European market, partly because of the toxicity and their long stay in the environment.
RTFI Project Coordinator Layla Liebetrau observed that their findings confirmed that 75 chemical products sold in Kenya and banned overseas were being sold by companies based in Europe.
“Plainly speaking, it is unacceptable for European companies to continue flooding Kenya with pesticides that have been withdrawn from their home continent.
Use of these insecticides has been blamed for the 50% decline in honeybee populations in the United States and the United Kingdom in the past 25 years,” stated Liebetrau.
The report dubbed “Pesticides in Kenya: Why our health, environment and food security are at stake” states that the state of affairs threatens the very basis of agriculture, given wild bees and managed honeybees play the greatest role in pollinating crops.
“According to estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), of 107 crop species, which provide 90 percent of global food, 71 percent are pollinated by bees. Some 20,000 species of bees responsible for fertilising these food crops are staring at extinction.
The importance of bees in the lives of humans is always underestimated and enough is not being done to protect the insects. While the world’s population is increasing day-by-day, the population of bees and other pollinators is steadily decreasing,” she warned.
Liebetrau said all crops ranging from horticulture to trees require bees for reproduction. She stated that Neonicotinoids, a commonly used class of synthetic insecticides, besides posing the biggest threat to insect pollinators also caused soil degradation and water pollution and endangers vital ecosystem services such as biological pest control.
Designed to damage the central nervous system of target pests, the synthetic pesticide has also been linked to deaths of birds, marine animals and other wildlife.
In 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) imposed a partial, temporary moratorium on the use of Neonicotinoids pesticides widely used in agriculture, after studies linked them with declining bee populations, especially over the last decade.
“The highest number of bees in the region is found in Kenya, Northern Ethiopia and Tanzania. However their population is dwindling at an alarming rate due to chemical pesticide use,” she said.
Pest Control Products Board CEO Peter Opiyo however refuted reports that some chemicals banned in the EU are on sale in Kenya.
“Some chemicals used in Kenya are definitely not registered for use in Europe because they target pests of tropical crops not grown in the EU. So the decision to register or not to register a product for use in the EU is a commercial decision by the manufacturer,” Dr Opiyo indicated in a rejoinder to the RTFI report.
Professor Rhoda Jerop Birech an expert in Sustainable Agriculture at Egerton University and a Board Member of Organic Consumers Alliance (OCA) noted that toxic chemical elements in insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and other synthetic toxins used in industrial agriculture were the biggest threats to bee health.
“One of the simplest ways to conserve our pollinator populations in an agriculturally reliant world is through organic farming. Organic farming standards largely prohibit use of synthetic pesticides and promote the use of integrated pest management (IPM) techniques. Some pesticides target the bee’s immune systems by making them defenceless against viruses,” she said.
Bee health should now be a priority of national governments, development agencies as well as farmers and beekeepers. Pests’ natural enemies such as wasps, friendly fungi which feed on pests and insects and other biological integrated pest management practices are the best to use,” said Professor Jerop.
The Route to Food Initiative (RTFI) report shows that use of pesticides in Kenya has risen from 6,400 tonnes in 2015 to 15,600 tonnes in 2017, an increase of about 144 per cent and that there is an increasing and indiscriminate use of toxic pesticides.
In 2018 Kenya imported 17,803 tonnes of pesticides valued at Kshs 12.8 billion. These were an assortment of insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, fumigants, rodenticides, growth regulators, defoliators, proteins, surfactants and wetting agents.
Of the total pesticide imports, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides account for about 87 percent in terms of volume and 88 percent of the total cost of pesticide imports.
“Interventions that are mainly focused on food production should also put into consideration mitigation measures against possible collateral damage caused by use of pesticides,” suggests the report
Last year, the United Nations said 40 per cent of invertebrate pollinators — particularly bees and butterflies — risk global extinction due to Neonicotinoids — lab-synthesised pesticides based on the chemical structure of nicotine.
Widely used to treat flowering crops, they are designed to be absorbed by the growing plant and attack the nervous system of insect pests.
Professor Jerop explained that Neonicotinoids are applied as a coating on the seeds of maize and other crops, and spread systemically throughout the crop, eventually ending up in the pollen of flowering plants.
This exposes insects that eat pollen, nectar or the plant itself to harm. In some countries, traces of Neonicotinoids have been found in honey samples. Neonicotinoids can leach into ground water, and they can persist in the environment for years after use.
“The discovery of Neonicotinoids chemical elements such as thiamethoxam, acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiacloprid in honey from different regions worldwide suggests the bees ingest them during their feeding,” she said.
Owing to the increase in pesticide use RTFI recommends enhanced safeguards to control how they are applied, including amongst other things trainings for farmers and local agro-vets on how pesticides should be used and adequate product labelling.
It suggests that structures should be put in place in place for adequate monitoring and reporting systems for health and environmental impacts of pesticides, and information centres with requisite medical facilities to diagnose, treat and report pesticide poisoning.
To achieve food security and fulfillment of the Right to Food in Kenya, Ms Liebetrau calls for the strengthening of national and county institutions and regulations; enhance accountability and responsibility of pesticide manufacturers and distributors; promote more sustainable farming systems.
“Farmers should be encouraged to apply integrated pests, disease and weed management in crops production to reduce exposure to toxic pesticides. They should be encouraged to practice agroecological farming practices,” stated the RTFI project coordinator.
Kenya is a signatory to the Rotterdam Convention, which establishes a prior informed consent procedure that allows countries to control the import of listed substances as a protection mechanism against the availability of potentially harmful chemicals entering food systems.