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Toxic Chemicals Everywhere, Our Lives on the Line…. #TOXICBUSINESS

After a recent expose on how supermarkets use chemicals (sodium metabisulphite) on meat to remain fresh, and the increasing cancer deaths among other Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), the link between food and disease among Kenyans is now alive. Sadly the proposed solutions are the usual reactional, mostly geared towards closing the supermarket meat butcheries, setting up more cancer centers, providing hospitals with screening equipment’s and less on preventative measures.

Tainted meat on supermarket shelves?

As a society we need to look back at where the rains started beating us. For a long time, we have lived in some sort of fool’s paradise, eating without any care about the safety of the food. Dangerous chemicals continue to be registered in the county including those banned elsewhere. Most of the extension is done by the manufacturers and distributors of these chemical. Farmers indiscriminately use them on regime basis rather on need as advised to increase sales.

 

From the Pesticides Control and Products Board, (PCPB) in 2018, Kenya imported fifteen thousand six hundred (15,600) tones of chemicals, more than double (2X) the amounts imported in 2015, six thousand four hundred tonnes (6400).  PCPB has registered 247 active ingredients  in 699 products for horticultural use. There are more products than active ingredients since one active ingredient can be in different formulations registered by different companies in different products. For example active ingredient glyphosate is registered in 39 products by 22 companies. Active ingredient imidacloprid is registered in 30 products by 13 companies.  It is also important to note that most products contain “inert ingredients”. These are carrier or sticking agents that help the product retain the active agent in a stable form. The inert ingredients quite often constitute over 95% of the pesticide product and are equally toxic as the active ingredient and sometimes even more. Sadly, when registering pesticide products, pesticide manufacturers are only required to list the active ingredients in a pesticide, leaving consumers and applicators unaware of the possible toxics present in the inert ingredients of the pesticide products they are using. Pesticide manufacturers argue they cannot release information on inert ingredients because they are trade secrets, and if released, their products could be duplicated.

In a recent study undertaken by the Route to Food Initiative, (RTFI) and partners, of the 247 active ingredients registered in Kenya, by the Pest Control and Poisons Board (PCPB), only 150 are approved in Europe, 11 are not listed in the European database and 78 have been withdrawn from the European market or are heavily restricted in their use due to potential chronic health effects, environmental persistence, high toxicity towards fish or bees. From the PCPB records a total ofl 155 companies have registered 699 products in Kenya. Most of the products originate from Europe (288 products), followed by China (199 products), India (82 products), US (54 products), Israel (32 products) and Japan (19 products) while other regions/countries have registered the balance. This means Europe and not China, as often argued, is the market leader in terms of pesticide sale.

Double Standards

Unfortunately, agricultural exports to Europe from Kenya and Africa at large are put under stringent measures for sanitary, phytosanitary and Maximum Residual Levels, (MRLS) – the maximum detectable levels for pesticides in food products allowable for export. This is a measure importing countries put to ensure safety of products getting into their countries with a mission to safeguard their safety. The companies that manufacture these pesticides cannot sell some of them in the countries of origin but dump them to Kenya and other developing countries. They make sure they don’t get back to Europe by use of rigorous regular monitoring systems to detect and reject products distained to their markets at the points of entry. Strangely, the EU Regulation EC304/2003 allows European companies to produce and export banned or restricted pesticides for domestic use to other countries, the so called double standard. However in a recent report to the Human Rights Council (Elver, 2017), the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Toxic Wastes and the Right to Food stated that to expose other nations to toxins known to cause major health damage or fatality is a clear human rights violation. They called on countries to remove these existing double standards especially with countries with weaker regulatory systems.

Back home, in a vicious treadmill we continuously import more chemicals that our farmers indiscriminately use without proper protection, disregard the harvest intervals and sometimes after harvest to increase the shelf life. While this is happening, the authorities have remained aloof as poison is served to citizens and the resultant cost of health continues to increase. The dynamics surrounding food safety and nutrition are too vital to be ignored or down played.

How safe is the food being sprayed ?

It is high time the Pest Control Poisons Board (PCPB) withdrew pesticides that have been banned elsewhere for their known adverse effects on human health and persistence on the environment from the Kenyan markets. The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate (KEPHIS) needs to   revamp its National Pesticide Residue Monitoring Programme (NPRMP) and  make it regular in all counties. Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) need tighten on the Standard requirements for chemicals used in Agriculture. The Ministry of Agriculture Livestock Fisheries and Irrigation  need to revamp our agriculture extension system so that farmers can be advised by neutral agricultural experts on the use of pesticides, when, how to use and which to avoid. Government extension agents  should play a key role on monitoring how farmers use chemicals and also to ensure that banned chemicals are not sold to unaware farmers. Private sector and Civil Society in the agriculture sector need to work more closely in a synergistic way and promote agroecology and marketing of safe agricultural produce. We need to educate our citizens/consumers so that they be more involved in deciding what is served on their plates, otherwise, our lives are on the line.

 

 

Health and Agriculture – The “Missing” Links

Agriculture produces the world’s food, fibre and materials for shelter; and in many countries it is also an important source of livelihood among the poor. Also, sometimes agriculture is related directly to poor health including malnutrition, food-borne illnesses, livestock-related diseases and chronic diseases. In turn, health also affects agriculture influencing demand for food, work performance, productivity and income.

People eat to live; to be healthy; and for the simple joy of it. However, bad eating can lead to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) including diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure, gout and cancer. In fact, the prevalence of NCDs and the risk factors at local level is high and on the rise. NCDs account for 63% of mortality globally. By 2030, the four main NCD-related deaths (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory illnesses) in Africa will exceed the combined deaths from communicable diseases, nutritional, maternal and neo-natal deaths by 75%.

The cost of care for NCDs dominates health care budgets. In Kenya, NCDs accounts for more than 50% of total hospital admissions and more than 55% of hospital deaths. Finally, mental illnesses such as depression are rising and associated with other NCDs. Kenya’s health care system is not adequately equipped to manage such NCDs burden.

 However, healthy diets can help reduce the risk. Eating nutrient dense foods and balancing energy intake with the necessary physical activity and a healthy weight is essential. The density of nutrients in foods is dependent on production practices.  Although complex to explain, it is clear that diet and foodstuffs production practices impact on consumer’s health. Informed authority has it that foods, rather than nutrients, should form the basis for dietary recommendations on the rule of the thumb: “eat a variety of real foods; mostly plants”.

 However, current systems of agriculture are designed to reduce food diversity. Four main crops – rice, maize, wheat and potatoes – provide two-thirds of global dietary energy intake. Agriculture has increasingly become an engine for generating animal feed, biofuels and industrial ingredients (e.g. sugar-sweetened beverages, ready-to-eat meals and snacks).

New investments in food systems research and production are needed to develop technologies for production of nutrient dense crops at lower cost; in tandem with efforts to develop food value chains to meet the new demand efficiently. These efforts are important for supporting stable incomes for farmers, expanding the production, preservation and distribution of vegetables, pulses and fruits. They are also needed to popularise healthier production environments, food business, healthier eating and healthier lifestyle. Indeed, widespread behavioural changes towards preference for pulses, vegetables and fruits in schools, workplaces, markets and in homes may also be effective without restricting choices. The desired change may be achieved by public policy, strategy and practice at community level.

 We now see that new thinking is needed to afford these multiple benefits. For example, pulse, fruits, vegetables and traditional varieties production and processing businesses can offer new livelihood opportunities for millions. In this way, food systems can be leveraged to affect human health and nutrition: positively influencing food safety, food prices, household incomes and women’s access to productive resources. It can have a positive impact on the environment and many human health and nutrition outcomes related to extreme weather.

 All stakeholders should confront the challenge and find solutions for improved nutrition and health; ending hunger and malnutrition while protecting the ecosystem services.

Health and Agriculture – The “Missing” Links written By Eustace Kiarii appeared in The Kenya Organic Food Festival and Exhibition 2018 Proceedings

Organic Shift: Why We Should All Care

Organic food and fibre production safeguard the environment, protects consumers against non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) and creates just wealth and work. It is one of the fastest growing industries in the world estimated at 816 Billion USD in 2016.  During the same year the industry contributed 3 billion KES from exports and 439 Million KES in domestic consumption. East African Regional market is growing at 20% per annum, with the up-market outlets and the tourist industry as major consumers.

The Kenya Organic Agriculture sector is growing fast, currently with 150,479 Ha certified land with the main products for exports being vegetables, salad pre-packs, herbs, spices essential oils, nuts, coffee, tea, and cold pressed oils.

Organic adoption rates are responding to meet the growing domestic and export markets, overcoming scepticism, knowledge and technological challenges. Agricultural research institutions and universities are undertaking research to address most of the challenges that smallholders face and need a platform for sharing discovered solutions or to commercialize products or technologies. In addition, most of farmer innovations are not documented. The NGO/government extension systems have proved inadequate to meet farmers’ needs, lacking in organic competencies and diversity, often causing more confusion than help. This eventually drives farmers to farmer technology transfer which is a slow process, sometimes riddled with unnecessary failure, and in most cases confined only to those areas where the innovation was developed. Consequently leading to useful knowledge being scattered and fragmented among research institution departments and farms.

The need to collate all this data, information and knowledge into a farmer/end user accessible database has never been more urgent. So that useful practices can be validated to meet the different needs of stakeholders. As well, a forum for sharing technologies and knowledge in practice, word, song and dance will foster growth and exchange of ideas, experiences, expectations and views among farmers and stakeholders. Such a forum will also register and share success stories from organic production systems, moving it from kitchen gardening to commercial high dividend enterprises for wealth and food security.