PACKAGED DANGER

Counties decline blanket approval of pesticides blamed for cancer and want alternative methods to control pests

'It's true we are now experiencing an upsurge in diseases linked to the foods we consume'

In Summary

• Agriculture executives are pushing for alternative methods of pest control, arguing there are genuine concerns on the use of pesticides.

• Some MPs, among them Gladys Shollei, insist that pesticides are harmful and should be banned

A farmer checks his cabbages in Kitale town on December 1.
INSPECTION: A farmer checks his cabbages in Kitale town on December 1.
Image: BY MATHEWS NDANYI

North Rift counties have refused to give a blanket approval on the use of pesticides amid claims that some of the chemicals cause cancer, infertility and other complications.

Agriculture executives in Uasin Gishu and Nandi – the country's food basket – are pushing for alternative methods of pest control, arguing that they have genuine concerns on the use of pesticides.

“We need more research on this subject of pesticides because it's true we are now experiencing an upsurge in diseases linked to the foods we consume and we cannot rule out the negative effect of pesticides used on food crops,” Uasin Gishu Agriculture executive Samwel Yego said.

Yego says there have been cases of fresh produce rejected in foreign markets because of unacceptably high levels of pesticides.

“We need to be careful not to give blanket approval on the use of pesticides.  We can see some problems possibly linked to the food we consume,” he said.

His Nandi counterpart Kiplimo Lagat says alternative methods and pest controls should be developed because of growing concerns on the use of pesticides.

However, he noted that large commercial farmers have limited options to control pests and diseases adaptable to commercial food production.

Lagat is aware of the use of banned pesticides which could be linked to adverse health effects on those who consume some food crops.

 He said the Horticultural Crops Development Authority (HCDA) lacked the capacity to support farmers who extensively use pesticides.

“The best way for them is to contract farming where exporters should be supported to provide extension services to farmers on such critical issue like the use of pesticides,” he said.

“There are concerns but banning the chemicals without immediate alternative solutions may not be the remedy since most of the imported food products are produced under similar circumstances as we do currently,” Lagat added.

Legislators from the region, among them, Uasin Gishu Woman Representative Gladys Shollei, are pushing to have 262 pesticides banned claiming they are harmful and responsible for the fast spread of cancer in the country.

But some farmers oppose the proposed ban of 262 pesticides.

The farmers, mainly from Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia,  argue there is no scientific evidence linking pesticides to cancer. They say the ban would lower food production.

“We believe the negative talk on pesticides is out of misinformation and rumours which have no scientific basis. But we know that were it not for pesticides, food production would be dead by now,” prominent Uasin Gishu farmer Ben Keptoo said.

According to Kiptoo, large scale-farming requires the use of pesticides because it would be impossible to control weeds, pests and disease attacking maize, wheat, horticulture and floriculture crops.

Another farmer, who only identified himself as Mursin, said they work closely with agriculture experts to ensure pesticides are used safely.

“Over the years we have been using pesticides authorised by the government through the Pesticides Control Board and I have not seen any negative effects, nor have other farmers, Mursin said.

Shollei heads a group of MPs convinced that the government should ban the importation and use of the 262 suspect pesticides.

She says most of those chemicals are banned in Europe, yet the government was not safeguarding the health of Kenyans.

She claimed more than 11,600 tonnes of harmful pesticides are imported annually and has tabled a motion in Parliament seeking to ban the suspect pesticides.

Her motion has an annexe of scientific research indicating that counties with high use of pesticides in Kenya also have the highest incidences of cancer and infertility.

Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya CEO Okisegere Ojepat, who has toured several farms in the North Rift, said there are clear national and international guidelines on the use of pesticides as he dismissed claims that pesticides were the cause of diseases including cancer.

“We export so much produce to Europe and there is no way the European nations can manufacture harmful pesticides for sale to our farmers and then buy fresh produce from the same farmers," Okisegere said.

According to him, experts have been educating farmers on the safe use of pesticides. “Our farmers have knowledge of pesticides and we have not had cases of negative effects."

A section of farmers led by Pius Murwa claimed pesticides and some fertilisers were the main cause of soil infertility and also blamed them for human infertility.