A recent study has shown that maize, sukuma wiki, and tomatoes grown in Kenya have been grown using Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs).

According to the World Health Organisation, HHPs are dangerous to human health, animals, and the environment. In many countries, HHPs are found in food, which puts the health of consumers at risk. They are especially dangerous to farmers and land workers exposed to them.

Speaking during a public webinar on the state of pesticide use in Kenya, Dr. Silke Bollmohr, a toxicologist and Lead Scientist at EcoTrac Consulting said Kenya’s staple food is not safe for consumption. This followed research done in conjunction with the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN), that showed excessive use of HHPs by Kenyan farmers in Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Machakos, and Meru.

“A recent study that we did in collaboration with KOAN, showed that most farmers in Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Machakos, and Meru heavily used highly hazardous pesticides on Kenya’s most important crops: maize, sukuma wiki, tomatoes, and cabbages,” stated Dr. Silke Bollmohr.

“These HHPs are known to have been banned in the EU and most recently in the US, but are still available and sold in the Kenyan market,” she added.

According to Dr. Bollmohr, the pesticide Chlorpyrifos present in these vegetables is not registered for use in vegetables in the first place. Agrovet dealers however recommend this HHP pesticide for use to unsuspecting farmers. Chlorpyrifos is registered for use in 24 products. Her presentation also showed pesticide residues in tomatoes and sukuma wiki that far exceeded recommended Maximum Residues Levels (MRLs).

Edward Njaibu, a farmer in Rumuruti spoke of the challenges faced by farmers on the ground. Pesticide multinationals and agrovet dealers have brainwashed farmers into over-reliance on chemical pesticides to protect their crops against pests. This practice makes farming expensive.

According to Njaibu, farmers have little to no information on safety guidelines of pesticides use including the need for protective gear during spraying. Misuse of these pesticides is also evident in the production of crops such as cabbages and tomatoes.

Denile Samuel, Labour Rights Coordinator, Women on Farms Project (WFP) in South Africa shared her experience working with female farmworkers in South Africa. She explained that many women she works with are not aware of the various health issues brought about by exposure to toxic chemical pesticides due to lack of access to protective equipment.

The webinar was organised by the Route to Food Initiative (RTFI) with the aim of educating the public on the state of pesticides in the country as the world marks World Food Safety Day. This three-part public webinar series will showcase different speakers with the next one happening on 14 June, 2021, featuring among others, the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB).

This year’s theme for World Food Safety Day, “Safe food today for a healthy tomorrow” stresses that production and consumption of safe food has “immediate and long-term benefits for people, the planet and the economy”. It also recognises that the systemic connections between the health of people, animals, plants, the environment, and the economy will help us meet the needs of the future.

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