A new environmentally friendly pest control model in the country is giving farmers a safer alternative to the conventional pesticides that have seen hundreds of fresh farmers locked out of lucrative export markets for failing to meet internationally accepted agricultural practices chief among them minimum application of chemical pesticides.
Kenyan exporters have for the last five years been forced to adapt to environmentally friendly farming practices as European customers concerned with environmental damages and safety of workers demand good agricultural practices for the fresh produces they consume. It has been a long and protracted battle where Kenya has lost millions as health conscious consumers especially in the international markets demand better growing conditions.
Earlier this year, more than a fifth of Kenya’s vegetable exports to the European market were rejected after they were found to contain traces of a banned chemical, which is said to cause cancer.
The Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya said only 4,000 tonnes of exports were received, 1,000 tonnes lower than normal.
With this ban several companies and farmers were delisted. The ban was a big blow to the country because the EU accounts for up to 80 per cent of Kenya’s fruit and vegetable sales and 42 per cent of flower exports.
But alternative pest control methods that are more potent at attacking pests while sparing the crops have cropped up with agro input dealers in the country stocking these biological control methods.
Elgon Kenya Limited one of the agro input companies in the country has been championing a balance between synthetic pest control method and biological means to guarantee safety. It has partnered with London Based Russels Company to supply integrated pest management systems that encourages minimum use of pesticides.
IPM's like pheromone traps targeting the voracious aphids, whiteflies and thrips together with sticky boards, rods and physical traps meant to eliminate fruit flies and supplied by Elgon Kenya, are recording impressive uptake as Kenya growers, whose lion share of export market is in UK, step up use of natural enemies and other cultural methods of wading off pests. “While we are in business, we also have to call to mind the fact that pesticides as much as they are needed by farmers cannot control pests in isolation and should be a last resort. That is why, biological control methods like traps are becoming a hot potato among farmers,” said Nelson Maina the Head of Communication at Elgon Kenya Limited. BASF another global leader in pest control has also partnered with local companies to supply pheromones, and sticky rods in addition to their wide array of chemical products
Pheromones are used to lure the male pests into the trap where they eventually die thus preventing females from reproducing. The rising awareness on pheromones and traps has been inspired by conventional pesticides becoming redundant because of the development of resistance to them, but more importantly because the government is increasingly becoming aware of the negative environmental and health aspects associated with the use of these compounds.
And small scale farmers have now seen the potential of the pheromones. Kimani Wamary a smallholder horticultural farmer in Nyeri who has long been buffeted by fruit flies and other pests has never known peace nor profits even after continuously using conventional pesticides. If it is not his produce being rejected due to over use of the pesticides, it is the stubborn pests re-emerging in his orchard even after constant spraying.
But the traps have been a game changer. “We call them the ‘magic traps’ because they magically trap fruit flies,” he said, referring to a recycled plastic bottle containing water, a small amount of pesticide, and a capsule of cuelure. Cuelure is a chemical compound that mimics female melon fly sex pheromones. When the trap is placed in a field of melons, “it works wonders,” Kimani said. “Insects flock to the bottle to drown.”
“The hybrid approach to pest control that Elgon Kenya Limited has adopted is testament to the fact that it is possible to rid our farms off pests while upholding international food safety standards,”retaliated Maina.