Picture this. Douglas Wanjala a small scale horticultural farmer in Rift Valley visits his local agrovet each month to buy his favourite pesticide. He does this once a month, to rid the cabbages off the voracious diamond black moth and aphids that are responsible for over 70 percent of yield losses across horticultural produces in Kenya. He has been doing this for ages and knows all the procedures involved in the spraying.
Douglas who is a mixed farmer also practising aquaculture farming knows one bit, he cant get his produce to maturity without the pesticide as his horticultural farming is a magnet for pests. Douglas's experience reverberates across numerous farmers who buffeted by the pest menace have courted pesticides over years. Unknown to them however is that the pesticides they expect to be available in the stores every month are never placed there mechanically.
They go through a rigorous testing and accreditation procedure to ensure they perform their intended roles including completely wiping out the stubborn pests without harming the users who come into contact with them, their environment and the ecosystem.
Behind the quest for safe pest control products in the country, is The Pest Control Product Board, a statutory body tasked with regulating the importation and exportation, manufacture, distribution, transportation, sale, disposal and safe use of pest control products and mitigating potential harmful effects to the environment.
While agriculture remains the country's lifeline, contributing a quarter of the country's income annually and employing over eight out of ten Kenyans, old age pests and diseases have equally been a threat to this pivotal economic sector which has at times left the country at food insecurity precipice. The birth of pest control mechanisms has therefore been a welcome move among farmers. Pesticides have been known to clear stubborn pests within minutes becoming farmers' darling. But the flipside has equally been catastrophic as some of these pest control products remain prohibitively dangerous to the environment and the people who operate them.
The Pest control board has therefore come in handy to chaperon distribution of these necessary evils as the Kenyan government works to adhere to the Food and Agriculture Organization's FAO International Code of Conduct on Distribution and Use of Pesticides, which stipulates that Governments should strive to establish registration schemes and infrastructure under which pest control products are regulated before release for use in the country.
Kenya has been known for its use of pesticides to expand agricultural production and increase productivity. According to research by the pest control Board, in the year 2009, approximately 7,047 metric tons of pesticides, worth some US$54 million were imported, with insecticides accounting for about 40% volume and 50% total cost, a clear testament of the country's reliance on synthetic pest control mechanisms. According to Ms Gladys Maina the Pest Control Product Board Managing Director, a huge portion of these pesticides are imported into the country which means more work for the board. The board has to be meticulous in analysing every minute detail on the efficacy of the product, its interaction with humans, ecosystem and the cost implication in the market.
Before any company decides to register any pest control product in the country, the board considers the product's safety, efficacy, quality and economic value in line with the Pest Control Products Registration Regulations of 1984. The Board also ensures that the technical information is summarized on the label in conformity to the Pest Control Products, Labeling, Advertising and Packaging Regulations. Any pest control applicant must therefore submit a letter applying for the introduction of the new pest control product, a registration form, an experimental label and a sample of the pest control product among other requirement.
Once the board becomes satisfied with the first submission, the product is released under experimental permit for local biological efficacy trials by accredited institutions. The institutions then test the products in the farms where the product intends to be used while also testing the cost rate and implications in the market. An all inclusive technical committee within the Pest control board then reviews the technical information collated from the field. “So at this stage we will be looking at the product's usefulness, manageability, the risk, implication in the market access because you dont want to register a product here, people are using it, then European Union which is one of our biggest trading partners says we dont take this product. At the decision making process you also have to be conscious of your trading partners preferences while taking cognizance of what is happening in the agrochemicals world,” said Ms Maina.
When all information is verified the product is registered for specific use. The board okeys this and the product is released into the market. However to keep tab of the the product's performance, the board goes for post registration surveillance a process which monitors whether what the product was registered to do it sticks to, or if challenges arise the need for reviewing the registration.
The woman at the helm of the pest control board however decries wrong use of pesticides which she attributes to farmers' disinterest in information booklets that come attached with the pesticides. “While majority of these farmers criticize some of these pesticides saying they are fake and are not working, it is actually wrong use that makes them not see the intended results. I would definitely like to let them know that instructions are very very important for any pesticides they intend to use, if at all they want them to work for them,” she says.
But perhaps like all major industries in the country and regionally one of the Board's greatest concern is the counterfeits that are finding their way to the market rapidly, with even the government alive to this nightmare and the serious impact it may have on farmers reviewed penalties for pesticide counterfeiters from the lenient Sh20,000 to Sh1 million or two years in jail or both. The board is now rolling a unique barcoding technology something akin to the mobile phone scratch cards where farmers will be texting the hidden numbers to a special SMS service to inquire about the authenticity of the product.