Kenya divided over pesticides ban to align with EU Green Deal

Efforts by Kenyan lawmakers to bring their regulations on pesticides in line with the EU’s green deal are dividing the country’s farming community with industry groups warning that a ban could wipe out over €1 billion of production. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

This article is part of our special report Ripple effects: How EU decisions impact African farmers.

The Kenyan farming community is divided over efforts by lawmakers to bring their regulations on pesticides in line with the EU’s green deal. Industry groups warn that a ban could wipe out over €1 billion of production.

The East African country’s agriculture sector could lose more than Sh150 billion (€1.2 billion) if the ban on the use of agricultural chemicals comes into force, argues the Tegemeo Institute of Research and Policy, based at Egerton University, an agriculture specialist institute in Central Kenya.

“If the ban is effected, then Kenya will have no alternative but to become a net importer of food to meet the needs of its people as a substantial amount of food will be lost,” said Egerton’s Timothy Njagi at an event organised by Science Kenya Africa.

Aligning with EU pesticide rules would help farmers and growers wanting to export to the EU, but could cause problems for subsistence farmers and smallholders who do not.

The lion’s share of Kenya’s exports to the EU is represented by agriculture commodities such as cut flowers, fruits and vegetables, accounting for more than 90% of the total export value.

In recent years, crop production across East Africa has been plagued by locust invasions, prompting heavy use of pesticides.

Up to 90% of Kenyan fresh product output relies on smallholders owning land of between half an acre and five acres in size.

The European Green New Deal, “should be seen as a foreign policy tool for the EU, because it is going to affect every country in the world that the EU trades with”, says Olumide Abimbola, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

That is now evident in Kenya, where the National Assembly is considering whether to impose a total ban on agrochemicals that have been banned in the EU. This move came after Gladys Shollei, a lawmaker in the devolved Uasin Gishu County assembly, 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. The proposed ban would cover around 200 chemicals.

On instructions from the National Assembly’s health committee, the country’s Pest Control Products Board is currently midway through conducting a risk analysis of products sold in Kenya. Of the assessed pesticides, 24 products are carcinogenic, 24 are mutagenic, 35 are endocrine disrupters, and 140 are neurotoxins.

The East African Community, a six-country bloc with its own single market for goods and a common external tariff, also considers whether to harmonise pesticide regulations.

However, environmental campaigners argue that non–toxic products can be used to protect crops.

With African states now focusing more on domestic food security in the wake of production and supply chain disruption caused by the COVID pandemic, countries could prioritise domestic food supply over EU exports.

“Kenyan farmers deserve to know the truth about pesticides. The associations championing the use of pesticides have misled our farmers, who deserve the truth about toxic pesticides’’, retorts Greenpeace Africa Food campaigner Claire Nasike.

Others warn that a pesticides ban would reduce production and increase reliance on imports.

“The EGD strategies are likely to erode an already small toolbox for African farmers by between 50 per cent and 60% due to increased farming costs, reduced crop yields, thus a need to increase food production up to 56% by 2050,” contends Stella Simiyu of CropLife Africa.

The impact of the EU’s sustainable goals on African food producers will be a key topic ahead of the sixth meeting between the EU the African Union (AU) next year.

The summit between the African Union (AU) and the EU will be held on 17-18 February 2022 to relaunch the trade partnership between the two neighbouring continents.

“It aims to establish an ambitious future-oriented alliance with Africa which can build an area of prosperity and stability underpinned by a transformational investment package,” the conclusions of the December’s EU summit reads.

EU-Africa move in step on Geographical indications revolution

The enormous tradition and diversity in African agricultural products may benefit from the use of the intellectual property tool for food protection that Europeans have been held most dear.

[Edited by Alice Taylor and Gerardo Fortuna]

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