Explainer on misuse of pesticides in Kenya.

Dr. Timothy Njagi Njeru, Ph.D, Development Economist and Research Fellow ,Tegemeo Institute

 “I want to say that we acknowledge that we have instances of misuse of pesticide products and especially on the horticultural products which include fruits and vegetable. What we don’t have is consensus on the extent of this misuse and what causes it and whatever the effects are. This is mainly because we don’t have studies that have generalizable findings for us to be able to say that.

The other key thing, and this is concerning the petition being tabled in parliament to ban some pesticides, is the issue about what causes what. We acknowledge that there’s a rise in non-communicable diseases, cancer being among the top in that list but there’s no causal link that has been established in our local context.

What I mean by this is that there is no study that has been done in Kenya that can actually show that if you use this pesticide you’ll actually get cancer. For this to happen, there will have to be estimation of the risk of exposure to be able to create a direct causal link that you can argue that x causes y, if we don’t want y then we need to make sure x doesn’t exist in the first place.

These are important because if I can refer you to the debate on smoking, it took years of lobbying before everybody could get on board with the ban on smoking although it was generally taken to be a fact even before studies on smoking causing cancer were done.

The other thing that people never said is that right now, we are at a point where our medical technology has advanced, we are able to detect cancer much better than we did ten years ago and that alone can lead to the increase in the number of cases. Yes, we’ve seen a rise in the use of pesticides but right now, these are just correlations so we don’t have a study that demonstrates that effect.

The other key question is how much pesticides are we using? If you use the standard of the European Union we are using much less than the European Union and if you look at whatever we are using, it’s not widely spread across the whole value chain. This is key in certain particular value chains. So if our overall goal; and this is where both sides of the current debate are, is to make sure that we have secure food and for us to do this, we need to identify a number of things including where the problem is and how we can tackle it.”

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