Cancer is killing Kenyans. The death of Kibra’s MP Ken Okoth, Safaricom’s Bob Collymore and Bomet Governor Joyce Laboso made it a trending topic for a few weeks before Kenyan as usual moved on. Poor cancer patients are forced to do Harambees and sell whatever they have to get treatment. Most of the times because of lack of access to good healthcare the cancer is discovered late and they die after bankrupting their families. At Kenyatta Hospital radio therapy is Sh500 to Sh1,000 per session and chemotherapy costs Sh6,000 to Sh600,000, depending on the drug used. In private hospitals it costs about Sh50,000 a week for radiotherapy and chemotherapy, depending on the drug used, it ranges from Sh12,000 to Sh200,000 per treatment.
But why the rise of cancer cases? The government doesn’t want to admit but the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe is playing a very significant role. Our food is sprayed with banned insecticide and pesticides. Kenya agriculture accounts for about 24% of Kenya’s GDP with an estimated 75% of the population working in the sector either directly or indirectly. In 2018 Kenya imported 17,803 tonnes of pesticides valued at 128 million dollars. The agriculture sector employs more than 40% of the total population and more than 70% of Kenya’s rural people, that means they come in contact highly hazardous pesticides. Most of the farming systems in Kenya are small-scale farming systems with a maximum size of 2 acres, which are very often situated along hill-slopes and close to water ways and therefore prone to the risk of runoff of soil with pesticides attached to it
Due to the high toxicity towards human health and the environment many of the pesticides Kenya is importing are banned or heavily restricted in Europe. The pesticides imported in Kenya contain hazardous products. Consumers and farmers are ignorant about the extent of pesticide use, their concentrations in food and environment and their possible effects on the environment and ecosystem services.
Despite European restrictions and interventions to use less hazardous products, some of the withdrawn pesticides are still in use in Kenya, and continue to threaten the environment and the health of Kenyan citizen Non-communicable diseases include diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, osteoporosis, chronic lung disease, stroke, and heart disease.
While farmers and rural residents are exposed most frequently and directly to pesticides, residues are found everywhere – in our food, our drinking water, in the rain and in the air. No one remains untouched by pesticide exposure. Long-term exposure to pesticides can also result in chronic health effects.
Almost half (49%) of the pesticide products registered in Kenya are toxic or very toxic to fish. Europe is the market leader in terms of pesticide sale in the region. The pesticides which can’t be used in Europe continue to be produced and exported to developing countries. There are also cases of pesticide manufacturers increasing exports of products that have been banned or restricted in their own countries, possibly in order to profit from existing stocks or to compensate for financial losses in local markets.
The EU Regulation allows their companies to produce and export banned or restricted pesticides for domestic use to other countries – the so called double standard. A pesticide is registered in Europe (very often with compulsory mitigation measures) is different in Kenya which may lead to higher exposure risk for farmers, consumers and the environment:
A report by route to food, Pesticides in Kenya: Why our health, environment and food security are at stake proposes several solutions on how to tackle the problem,
The most important ones are based on three pillars:
1. Strengthening national institutions and regulations, and increasing the responsibility of the pesticide industry in order to phase out highly toxic pesticides.
2. Promoting more sustainable farming systems, starting with the use of less toxic pesticides and increasing biodiversity on farms until the farming system is adapted to agro-ecological principles.
3. Awareness creation amongst farmers and the general public to increase the demand for safe and healthy food, which will support sustainable farming systems and is a preventative measure against diet-related illness.
If Kenya doesn’t act we shall continue burying our people because of diseases caused by the use of pesticides. We are basically allowing our people to eat poison. #FoodSafetyNow
The Writer, Boniface Mwangi is a Human Rights Activist and comments on topical issues