As the global community’s attention is drawn towards food safety and food standards, the County Government of Nakuru in Partnership with Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) have rolled out a campaign seeking to reduce the risk of pesticides to stakeholders in the food value chain.
The initiative dubbed ‘Ukulima True’ that has also received support from the Centre for Behaviour Change and Communication Centre (CBCC) is further aimed at raising awareness of environmentally friendly bio-control and bio-practice products.
According to Deputy Director, CABI Africa Dr Monica Kansiime, excessive use and misuse of pesticides is causing loss of biodiversity, destroying beneficial insect populations and reducing food safety.
Dr Kansiime indicated that through the program that will run up to December 2023, small holder farmers are being trained to adopt Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) to ensure healthy crops and lower the risk of contaminating produce with dangerous pathogens or agrochemicals.
The Deputy Director expressed concern that food safety guidelines and regulations put more emphasis on food exportation than domestic, adding that more emphasis should be put on ensuring that domestic food is also taken care of.
Speaking during an on-farm training session for 30 farmer groups in Subukia Sub-County, the Deputy Director disclosed that initiative was part of a process to streamline Kenya’s food production systems to align them with the sanitary and phytosanitary standards, the guideline for producing safe food.
“Farming is a noble profession and there is a need to educate farmers on food safety, environmental sustainability and workers well-being in fruits and vegetables farming,” said Dr Kansiime.
The Deputy Director noted that by following GAPs, from field preparation through harvest, storage and marketing, the risk of contaminating produce can be greatly reduced.
“The reality is that every Kenyan is exposed to pesticides which, when sprayed on crops, can end up in the human body through the food, fruits, veggies and drinks that we consume. We are investing in training the avocado, tomato, maize and bean producers to adopt integrated crop management and integrated pest and disease management practices that advocate for building diverse and resilient systems to drought, pest, and diseases,” She pointed out.
Dr Kansiime went on “The key to a pest and disease-free farm is farm hygiene where the farm is kept weed-free and at the right crop density and spacing. With changing climate, timely planting can help evade adverse weather that predisposes crops to disease attack. It can also help evade periods of high pest and disease attacks on the crops,”
Kenya is signatory to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Protocol with the objective of making sure that food is safe and that trade is not hindered.
The Deputy Director said an estimated 40 percent of crops are lost to pests globally, among which fall army worms in maize and the tomato leaf miner are well known for their devastation.
“CABI is helping growers adapt to this major challenge through projects like the Bio Protection Portal that apply expertise in digital development and crop health to promote sustainable approaches to pest control and management,” said Dr Kansiime.
The Bio Protection Portal brings together in one place the various safer and more environmentally friendly bio-control and bio-pesticide products that growers can add to their ‘arsenal’ against crop pests as part of an integrated pest management plan.
‘Ukulima True’ campaign – which is part of the CABI PlantwisePlus programme, is promoting soil health improvement to ensure crops are healthy and able to fight off pest and disease attacks. Other aspects of the initiative include crop diversification, rotation and intercropping to take advantage of natural repellents and physical barriers for insect control.
“Reducing pesticide risks will improve the safety of food and protect farmers, community members, animals, and environmental health. PlantwisePlus also works to ensure safer plant protection products, such as biopesticides and biocontrol products, are readily available and affordable for farmers,” the Deputy Director added.
County Agribusiness Officer Miriam Kinyanjui indicated that pesticides can persist in the environment for decades, pollute water resources and pose a threat to the entire ecological system
Kinyanjui said the County Government was ensuring that spray service providers are trained and registered and that it was educating farmers on sustainable and safe ways to produce food.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly three million people are poisoned and 200,000 die every year. In Kenya, about 350,000 cases of pesticide poisoning are reported annually.
While observing that pesticide overuse was a threat to food safety, the Agribusiness Officer said some of Kenya’s horticultural products destined for export markets have been intercepted based on Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs), defined as the maximum concentration of pesticides that are either not permitted in the markets or exceeds the set limits.
“We have begun educating our farmers on how to comply with the rules of the European market. Kenya has had challenges in cut flowers and more recently beans and avocados. All agrochemicals companies should ensure proper use of their products through adequate labeling using the widely used national language and take responsibility where harm occurs due to lack of sufficient information,” she added.
Kinyanjui stated that through the initiative farmers are being educated to adopt food production methods that do not emphasize the use of pesticides and other chemicals.
She underscored the need to step up surveillance and monitoring at ports of entry, including airports and border posts, to ensure that unscrupulous traders do not smuggle into the country deadly substances.
Experts have warned that many farmers in Kenya rely on profit-driven agrovets rather than agricultural extension officers to manage pests and diseases.
This has led to proliferation of crop protection products in the country, particularly those that are banned in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
A study that focused on Kirinyaga and Murang’a counties found that tomatoes are among the basic food products on which pesticides are largely misused.
Kinyanjui underscored the need to strengthen pesticide risk regulation, research and education to yield possible alternatives and put a stop to the importation of all the pesticides banned in the European Union.
Records from the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) indicate that Kenya has banned 43 products and restricted the importation and use of five others. The board is now working with an international partner to train Kenyans on what to look out for. This is vital as pesticide use in Africa has increased by nearly 70 per cent between 1999 and 2021.
55 year old avocado farmer Rosemary Kamau said she was now aware of the Bio-pest control method that makes use of pathogens, insect predators or parasitoids, pheromones and insect traps to keep pest populations low.
“I now know that release of predators and parasitoids of pests such as lady bird beetles, spiders, wasps and predatory mites is also helpful. They have taught us that use of pheromone dispensers to disrupt mating of pests and use of traps like sticky coloured boards, pheromone traps and light traps to catch insect pests, are also useful,” observed Kamau.
Kamau said a farmer can attract the predators by planting pollen and nectar-producing plants.
Capsicum farmer Josiah Ngumi said the farmers had been enlightened on companion plants that repel pests naturally when grown next to crops.
“These plants include garlic which repels beetles, aphids, Japanese beetles and spider mites when grown next to vegetables. Basil repels tomato hornworms while marigolds planted near squash or cucumbers repel cucumber beetles and nematodes,” Ngumi elaborated.
He added that he was now aware that various plant extracts and other natural materials can be used to repel pests, reduce their feeding or reproductive activities and reduce proliferation of diseases.