By Millicent Mwololo
Since 2017, Jacob Mwakame’s crop yields have been on the decline. Mr Mwakame is a smallholder farmer specialising in capsicums and onions farming in Isinya, Kajiado County.
“The rains have been erratic, and even though Isinya is normally hot, the heat has more than doubled in the last three years,” said Mr Mwakame.
He explained: “Desert locusts, blight, and tuta absoluta have really been affecting yields within Isinya. Farmers like myself have had to switch from tomatoes and cabbages into capsicums and onions. I am also using more agrochemicals to fight pests, and more fertilisers and paying higher water bills because I am connected to a private borehole. Farming has become expensive. I hear that there is a bill in parliament to ban the use of agrochemicals. This will suck out the life out of us smallholder farmers. We will become poorer and hungrier. Withdrawing pesticides and fertilisers from the market is such a big gamble. Agriculture in Africa will lose meaning.”
Mr Mwakame’s sentiments echo those of other farmers in his neighbourhood. They are spending more to produce lesser food crops due to the aggravating effects of global climate change, and stubborn pests.
While the fortunes of smallholder farmers are dwindling, there is a petition in Kenya’s national assembly seeking a total ban on agrochemicals that have been banned in the European Union (EU). Uasin Gishu County Woman Representative, Gladys Boss Shollei tabled a public petition in Parliament arguing that the volume of imported pest control products (PCPs) had more than doubled in four years, posing a risk to health and the environment.
In the petition, the lawmaker claimed that there were adverse effects of pesticides on human, animals, wildlife and environmental health. On July 14, 2021, the EU adopted a set of intermediate proposals to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030 as part of a broader European Green Deal (EGD). With the EGD, the EU hopes to become climate neutral by 2050, protect human life, animals and plants by cutting pollution, help companies become world leaders in clean products and technologies, and ensure a just and inclusive transition.
To actualise these ambitions the EU has employed three main strategies; the farm to fork strategy which aims to reduce the use of chemical pesticides, nutrient losses and antimicrobial sales for farmed animals and aquaculture by 50 per cent. The biodiversity strategy aims at reducing the use of pesticides, halting and reversing the decline of pollinators. Its chemical sustainability strategy focuses towards zero pollution for a toxic-free environment.
Experts in the East African region have warned EAC states to go slow on the EGD proposal, that a mandated reduction in agricultural inputs by farmers could reduce global agricultural output up to 11 per cent, while the tightening of global supplies could increase food prices by as much as 89 per cent. Further, measures to reduce agricultural inputs could increase the number of food-insecure people in the world’s most vulnerable regions, majorly in Africa, by 22 million to 185 million.
“The EGD strategies are likely to erode an already small tool box for African farmers by between 50 per cent and 60 per cent due to increased farming costs, reduced crop yields thus a need to increase food production up to 56 per cent by 2050,” shared Stella Simiyu, director regulatory affairs and stakeholder relations CropLife Africa Middle East. The move will also make farmers like Mr Mwakame less competitive and tighten export windows due to stringent export standards.
Experts further warn that a ban on agrochemical use would reduce food production within EAC, increase reliance on imports. This comes at a time when fundamentals for increased food production in Africa are growing stronger as Africa’s population is expected to grow by 700 million by 2035. The World Bank estimates that both the continent’s GDP and middle class will double by 2035.Africa, with its fast-growing population, changing diets and increasing reliance on food imports, is likely to be particularly affected should Kenya and others implement the EGD, saidKinyua M’Mbijjewe, principal consultant at AgCuity Consulting.
Further, the World Bank estimates that the Sub-Saharan African food import bill of US$43 billion in 2019, which is 60 per cent of the food consumed, is likely to hit 100 billion by 2030. An estimated 250 million people in Africa are experiencing hunger, which is 20 per cent of the population in 2021. Data from FAO indicates that in Africa, the average yield for corn was less than two tonnes per hectare, and for six tonnes per hectare for wheat in 2019.
Further, smallholder farmers represent the largest share in Africa’s agriculture. It is estimated that sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has 100 million smallholder farmers, who control 80 per cent of all of its cultivated area. The EGD has not incorporated land availability in Africa. Yet, more land will be needed for organic farming in order to produce the same amount of yield as of today. “Over 40 per cent of yield losses in Africa occur due to pests and diseases, this will aggravate the food insecurity situation,” said Ms Simiyu.
From 1990 – 2018, every region of Africa and the Middle East (AME) has urbanised significantly and this trend will continue. AME will contain 14 mega cities by 2050. This population growth but also urbanisation will push up SSA’s food demand by 150 per cent by 2050.
Several impact assessment studies on the EGD conclude that there are significant impacts, trade-offs and blind spots regarding the Green Deal that urgently need to be considered by policymakers in the EU and Africa. The EU Joint Research Centre (JRC) studypredicts that the expected decrease of between 40 and 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from European agriculture stemming from the implementation of farm to fork targets will lead to outsourcing European agricultural production,including its emissions to third world countries. The Kiel University studyprojects that Europe could become a net food importer, in direct contradiction with the open strategic autonomy promoted by the European Commission during the COVID crisis.
The USDA studyconcludes that the targets set out in the farm to fork strategy could lead to food insecurity for 22 million people. An Anilpa studyon the economic impact of the EU Green Deal on Portugal’s productivity of key value chains (2021) concludes an over 300 million Euro income reductionshould the Green Deal be implemented as is, of which 166 million loss is in maize and 111 million Euro loss in tomatoes.
In Kenya, the Tegemeo studypredicts that should we implement the EGD, Kenya will experience lower production of key crops, increased food insecurity at household and national level, more storage losses, and jeopardise food imports.
Kenya’s agriculture sector stakeholders argue that the petition is not born out of goodwill, but pressure by the EU to use Kenya as a gateway to push their agenda in Africa. “The EGD is very good for the EU and prescriptive when it comes to Africa. Africa does not require a prescription, it requires it to be brought to the table on issues that affect its agriculture. What Africa requires is a green revolution, the EU has gone through it,” expressed Ojepat Okisegere, farmer and CEO at Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya.
Africa needs a say at the EGD negotiations table
We need to be on the table to be able to say what is good, workable and sustainable for us. We may need to have our own Green Deal, but who is going to fund Africa’s Green Deal? Do we have the capacity as governments to fund our own Green Deal?” Mr Ojepat posed.
According to M’Mbijjewe, substantive dialogue and negotiation is requiredbetween the EU and African countries on the opportunities, challenges, synergies and divergences on their respective visionsfor agriculture, food and the environment. “Africa needs to decide for Africa, not the EU. The input of all key stakeholders, especially farmers, agriculture ministers, key value chain associations, academia, industry players, and consumer organisations, needs to be prioritised,” said M’Mbijjewe.
The EGD is a policy, trade, climate change and political issue. As such, politicians need to be educated on the EGD. “At the political space, Kenya needs sober discussions. As at now, we do not know the contents of the Africa-EU Partnership 2063 document. EU-Africa partnership without Africa is dangerous for the continent. Africa has the world’s largest population of young people that must be fed,” said Ojepat. The Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya is getting signatures from smallholder farmers across Kenya so that it can push for their interests by opposing the petition.
Ojepat feels that before the EGD is ratified in March 2022, it has to pass scrutiny from the relevant people who are smallholder farmers in Africa. Adoption of the EGD in Africa should be facilitative and not prescriptive, added Ms Simiyu. It should be an EU-Africa win-win relation. Given the current context, agriculture is critical for Africa as it accounts for between 25 per cent and 40 per cent of countries’ GDPs and livelihoods.
M’Mbijjewe recommended: “The EU has a clear strategy and position and Africa and Kenya needs to ensure it negotiates its position in EU-Africa agreements in line with its interests and priorities.”
According to the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) Policy Briefing Note 137, the EGD’s biodiversity strategy, will result in reduced agricultural production in Europe and increased European agricultural imports and reduced exports. It will also lead to higher international food prices and increased global food insecurity. As such, M’Mbijjewe notes, the EU needs to make full use of its various policy instruments – including trade policy, investment facilitation, development assistance and international diplomacy – to support efforts by developing countries to improve the sustainability and resilience of their own food systems. “Particular attention should be given to supporting a transition to sustainable food systems in Africa, given the severe challenges facing Africa’s food systems,” said M’Mbijjewe.
Any EGD agreement should strengthen agriculture in East Africa and its contribution to sustainable and inclusive development, noted M’Mbijjewe. Kenya’s agriculture sector directly contributes 34 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), approximately 60 per cent of export earnings, 18 per cent of the country’s formal employment and about 60 per cent of the informal employment. The EGD agreement thus needs to enable a sustainable increase in agricultural productivity to feed the world’s fastest growing continent. Calls for synergies by the EU needs to take cognisance of the diseases and pest pressures that pose major challenges for African farmers and require the use of effective pesticides, some of which are proposed for banning in the EU, M’Mbijjewe noted.
EAC member states have pesticide regulations that are risk based and largely fit for purposethat help unlock the potential of sustainable agricultural innovation. Regulations suited to the needs of Europe are not necessarily suited to the needs of East Africa. “Limiting farmers’ access to necessary technologieswill risk livelihoods and compromise food security. Kenyan regulatory frameworks should be strengthened not undermined,” he suggested.
The emphasis must be on the capacity building of the users. “The molecules of PCPs must be prescribed by qualified people. We are training our people to follow instructions and labels to enhance usability,” said Mr M’Mbijjewe. Africa uses much less pesticides and fertiliser per hectare than Europeand the EGD calls for reductions in Europe are not reflective of Africa’s situation. “Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), Malabo, and Abuja Conventions alongside national agriculture strategies should guide Africa’s agricultural agenda.” M’Mbijjewe added.
Key exporting countries rely on pesticides. For instance, in Kenya,rice consumption is the fastest growing cereal in terms of growth in per capita consumption and rice imports and accounts for over 90 per cent of domestic consumption. Pakistan, Tanzania, India, Thailand all rely on pesticides and export into Kenya.
Source: Tegemeo Institute
A ban on agrochemical use would reduce crop production, increasing reliance on imports. Further, the Tegemeo Institute study notes that an increase in post-harvest losses are expected due to potential ban, with adverse effects on poor households.
Locally, the Pesticides Control Products Board (PCPB) regulates all pesticide use in the country. However, Kenya has no capacity to institute safety measures at the border points to check food imports. If measures are implemented, countries are likely to retaliate if they conceive restrictions as non-tariff barriers, observed Dr Timothy Njagi, the founder and director at Tegemeo Institute.
Safe agrochemicals use
To ensure safety in the use of agrochemicals, the industry has in recent years responded with initiatives such as the use of mark of quality, labelling, farmer training, the use of mobile apps and disposal of pesticide containers. Other initiatives include the training, licensing and use of spray service providers (SSPs) and the provision of personal protective equipment (PPEs) and the disposal of archaic pesticides.
A recent impact study on the use of agrochemicals in Kenya by the Tegemeo Institute has established that there has been a steady rise in import volumes of agrochemicals into Kenya between 2015 and 2018. Specifically, in 2014 and in 2020, agrochemical imports into the country were highest due to incidences of desert locust invasions, said Dr Njagi.
Per capita pesticide use within Africa is far much lower when compared to European countries. Data from Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) indicates that in East Africa pesticide use is minimal with Rwanda leading with 1.8 kilogrammes, followed by Kenya at 1 kilogramme, Zimbabwe and Malawi with 0.3 kilogrammes each, and Sudan at 0.1 kilogrammes per hectare.
Kenya’s regulatory environment
In Kenya, agrochemicals are controlled by the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB). The Pest Control Products Act was established in 1982, and amended in 2009. The Pest Control Products Bill and regulations are currently under review, and they are so far the most innovative in Africa.
PCPB registers agrochemicals prior to authorisation for use, and also analyses residue data on edible crops, a product’s toxicology, and its efficacy data. In doing this, PCPB relies on the FAO/WHO International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management, the Rotterdam, Stockholm and Basel Convention and Kenya’s PCP Act CAP 346 – which dictates that all PCPs used in the country should be effective with no unacceptable risk to human health or the environment.
PCPB analytical laboratory is currently undertaking quality analysis of pesticide formulations in the market in order to weed out substandard products that have been counterfeited and adulated. Also, PCPB is constructing a laboratory which will house a residue laboratory, a formulation laboratory and a bio pesticide laboratory. Once completed, the laboratory is expected to complement monitoring and surveillance of pesticide residues in produce destined for the local and international market, water and soils.
“By enhancing analysis of agricultural produce, soil and water, the quality of food will be monitored and the data will be used for decision making,” said Dr Paul Ngaruiya, registration officer at the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB).
Import and export permits of agrochemicals are approved for respective consignments and from a known source. This is aimed at ensuring that only products that have undergone the registration process are availed in the Kenyan market. To date Kenya has banned and severely restricted the importation and use of 39 products.
PCPB encourages use of integrated pest management. The use of pesticides is the last resort after pest scouting and establishing that losses in crop production as a result of pests would reach economic injury level if not controlled.
Harmonisation efforts on pesticides regulations in EAC
There have been regional efforts by governments in EAC member states to harmonise PCP usage and safety standards in the region. Pursuant to Article 108, six harmonised documents were developed and approved by the Council of Ministers. This provided for guidelines on data requirements for the registration of conventional chemical pesticides used in agriculture and forestry in EAC partner states. Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan are still evaluating these guidelines.
The EAC Council of Ministers issued a directive in June 2021 that requires partner states to domesticate the harmonised guidelines on pesticides use by June 2022. Kenya is required to incorporate the EAC instruments in the draft regulations in order to operationalise them. PCPB and other relevant stakeholders worked on the Bill and regulations and incorporated the EAC instruments in the bill regulations.
These instruments include the guidelines for evaluating and reporting the efficacy of PCP for plants, guidelines for the conduct of supervised pesticide residue field trials on crops, and technical criteria for designating efficacy trial centres. Also included are guidelines for the protection of confidential business information submitted for pesticide registration actions in the EAC partner states, and the EAC harmonised guidelines for the registration of biopesticides and bio control agents for plant protection. Member countries should also pilot efficacy trials under EAC to facilitate consideration of mutual recognition.
Kenya, and other countries in EAC have implemented policies and regulatory environments for pesticide use and disposal. However, knowledge gaps among farmers on use and disposal of pesticides exist. Proposed ban on agrochemicals has adverse effects on food security, incomes and the economy and does not guarantee food safety. Alternative proposals for ensuring safe use and the disposal of pesticides likely to lead to better overall outcomes including achieving the objectives of the proposed ban.