If death had an opportunistic target, it would be the Kenyan consumer. The budding question these days is, what have we consumed that isn’t poisonous? Just a few weeks ago, thanks to the intelligent work of a journalist; Dennis Okari, we discovered that the meat we consume in Nairobi is laced with high amounts of sodium metabisulphite. One would say, I will stay safe and switch to vegetables but alas, our vegetables and grains have been found to contain high amounts of chemical residues.
A closer look at the Pest Control and Produce Board’s website, confirms the amount of chemicals we ingest in our food. There are about 1,500 registered chemical products listed – the most notable one being glyphosate. This is a herbicide used to kill weeds and used by most farmers in Kenya. It has recently been in the spotlight for its association with cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)classifies glyphosate as a probable carcinogen that falls in group 2A. After carrying out real world exposure studies and meta-analysis on glyphosate, the agency ruled that there is a strong evidence of DNA damage in human beings associated with glyphosate. Sufficient evidence of cancer in animals associated with glyphosate and an increased risk of non-hodgkin lymphoma (a blood cancer that affects the immune system).
Not long ago, in the United States of America, Mr Dewayne Johnson sued Monsanto(an American agrochemical and agricultural corporation that is now owned by Bayer), and the manufacturers of Roundup, for failing to inform him that the product contained glyphosate. The jury ruled that, that was the cause of the non-hodgkin lymphoma. Mr Johnson won the case and was awarded $250 million in punitive damages and $39.2 million for losses.
Across the world, countries such as Austria and France are imposing bans on the sale and use of glyphosate. Just recently, the Austrian parliament also bannedthe use of glyphosate. In Germany, retailers (hardware stores) started removing glyphosatefrom their shelves. In France, a court banned the sale, distribution and use of Roundup 360.The French Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume announced thatFrance would eliminatethe use of glyphosate by 2021 with limited exceptions. The Indian state of Kerala also issued a ban on the sale, distribution and use of glyphosate in February this year.
Despite such evidence and knowledge on the effects of glyphosate, the Pest Control and Produce Board still authorises the sell of glyphosate based products to the Kenyan farmer. These products are then found on shopping aisle and markets – for purchase and use.
Are farmers and consumers aware of the risks they face from using glyphosate and consuming produce grown with glyphosate?
Relying on agrochemicals to produce food is not only harmful to human health but also creates an agrochemical dependency that propels the cycle of poverty. Continued over-reliance on glyphosate based products and other hazardous pesticides, also compromises the right to safe food and a clean environment for Kenyan consumers and smallholder farmers. This right is enshrined in the constitution.
Yes, there is a looming food crisis in Kenya at the moment. But most certainly, Kenya does not need to rely on toxic chemicals such as glyphosate to grow food or increase its agricultural produce at the detriment of farmers and consumers who will be and are gravely affected or at risk.
There are numerous proven and effectiveecological farmingapproaches used to control pests on farms.These are practises that protect the soil, the water and the climate and do not contaminate the environment with chemical inputs. They also put power back into the hands of farmers, consumers and producers, rather than the corporations who control the food chain with harmful products and want to hold their grip on it
Practises such as Push-pull technologywhich involves intercropping a cereal crop with a repellent intercrop such as desmodium (push), with an attractive trap plant such as Napier grass (pull) planted as a border crop around this intercrop can be used for management of stemborer pests.
The use of plant extracts such as Neem, garlic and chilli. These practises have been employed by farmers and not only have they been effective in controlling pests, but also ensured that consumers have access to chemical free food.
Farmers do not need subsidised agrochemicals, they require proper storage facilities, access to water, markets and financial support to advance the sustainable forms of farming such as ecological farming that they are already practising.
The Pest Control and Produce Board should urgently take into consideration the needs of the Kenyan farmers and consumers, who are particularly worried about the safety of their food. They should make every effort to immediately restrict the use and sale of glyphosate products as well as other agrochemicals in Kenya.