AAK Chief Executive Officer, Eric Kimunguyi

AAK Grow is championing sustainable agriculture amidst rising pest and disease threats

While pesticides better known as Pest Control Products (PCPs) have become indispensable, aakGROW is promoting safety standards to protect farmers, consumers, traders, and the environment from any harm arising from their use.

By Zablon Oyugi

With pests and diseases wreaking havoc on food crops and vegetation, their impact is becoming more pronounced due to climate change and other factors.

Experts are warning of increasing food insecurity and reduced incomes from the agricultural sector, which contributes approximately 33% to the country’s GDP, should farmers ignore counsel on proper use of PCPs.

This is where the former Agrochemicals Association of Kenya (AAK), now rebranded as aakGROW, steps in with its crucial role in addressing these challenges.

“Being in the tropics, Kenya provides a conducive environment for the growth and spread of most pest species, as the conditions present a warm and humid environment for their growth,” says Eric Kimunguyi, the Chief Executive Officer at aakGROW.

He cites the threat posed by increased rainfall and rising temperatures, which have facilitated the spread of pests to non-traditional areas, jeopardising the production of economically significant crops.  They include coffee, whose production is threatened by an outbreak of thrips, small insects that feed on many commercial crops.

While most of these pests are spread through interactions with the outside world during travel for trade and leisure, the other key factor that has increased their numbers in the recent past is the changing weather.

“It is very difficult to eradicate pests once they have established themselves in a new territory as managing them is time consuming and expensive,” says Kimunguyi.

He spoke during an interview with Smart Farmer Magazine.

He also explains a pest resurgence in areas where pesticide application initially reduced infestation, but soon after rebounded to higher levels.

“Such scenarios occur as a result of various resistance mechanisms that different pests have or develop towards an insecticide, something that requires a proper follow-up overtime and the introduction of new approaches and pesticides targeting the resistance,” he adds.

To combat pests, aakGROW highlights the importance of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which combines various methods such as cultural, biological, mechanical, and the use of recommended PCPs.

“Adopting a mixed approach is the most effective option for the pests, disease, and nutrition challenges in crops,” Kimunguyi explains.

The primary objective of IPM is to grow crops sustainably while safeguarding the health of consumers, workers, and the environment.

 

Product stewardship

aakGROW is committed to minimising risks and maximising the benefits of crop protection products. The organisation examines the entire life cycle of these products, from formulation to the disposal of empty packaging containers, with a focus on ensuring human health and environmental protection.

In addition to public education on safe pesticide use, the organisation also serves as an intermediary between the government and other stakeholders, protecting the common trade interests of its members. It promotes research to improve the efficacy and responsible use of pesticides.

While pesticides boost farming, aakGROW is alive to the need to enforce safety standards to protect farmers, consumers, traders, and the environment from any harm arising from their use.

“Chemical control, which involves the intelligent application of recommended PCPs, plays a more supportive role, assisting in effective and long-term management of pest populations,” says Benson Ngigi, the Stewardship Manager at aakGROW who also spoke during the interview.

However, there is a need for trained personnel or experts to ensure the pesticides are applied in the right dosage, at the right time, for the right crop and reason and proper handling of the containers after use.

“At every stage of handling these pesticides, right from research, production or repackaging to the end-user, we have developed product stewardship whose aim is to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks arising from PCPs at all stages,” adds Ngigi.

Responsible use of PCPs, involvement of spray service providers, communication and advocacy, and pesticide resistance management are vital. Also required is a Poison Information Center, obsolete agro-inputs stock management, and safe empty pesticide container disposal. All which aakGROW has implemented in the country.

 

Training of spray service providers

To ensure responsible pesticide application, aakGROW roots for proper training of Spray Service Providers (SSPs) and agrochemical dealers.

“Creating awareness on responsible use of pesticides is key in protecting smallholder farmers from harm and the environment from contamination,” says Ngigi.

The aakGROW, Ministry of Agriculture, Pest Control Products Board (PCPB), and county governments have been training spray service providers and agrochemical dealers to enable them to curb the misuse of PCPs.

This has had several benefits, including reduced operator exposure to the chemicals, observance of Pre- Harvest Interval (PHI), reduced counterfeit products, adherence to recommended dosage, pest and disease resistance management and proper container handling.

PPE that was used to train farmers in Kirinyaga county on responsible pest control solutions by AAK Grow/ Croplife Kenya. Photo courtesy

Empty pesticide container management

It has been noted that in the past, many containers were carelessly disposed of in the open, while farmers put them to home use, which is risky to humans, animals, and the environment.

According to a 2007 survey by CropLife Kenya, in collaboration with CropLife International, there has been a consistent increase in the use of pesticide containers in non-recommended ways every year, with plastics accounting for 50 per cent of the total volume.

Prompted by these findings, CropLife Kenya is incorporating a sustainable collection system across the country.

 

“We are collaborating with Environmental & Combustion Consultants Ltd (ECCL), a local waste management company in safeguarding obsolete PCPs and collected containers through an established and operationalised national Empty Pesticide Container management system or Kenya Hazardous Waste Producer Responsible Organization (KEHAPRO) initiative,” Ngigi explains.

In this, farmers and SSPs are encouraged to aggregate and deposit triple-rinsed, empty containers at the nearest collection centres established by aakGROW after which they are weighed and transported for incineration or recycling.

Triple-rinsing of empty pesticide containers is a proven method, which removes 99.99 per cent of pesticide residues from the containers, as promoted by CropLife worldwide.

 

Counterfeits

aakGROW is also tackling the issue of counterfeit agrochemical products that continue to infiltrate the market.

Ngigi says the illegal products, often lacking proper labelling or imitating reputable brands, contribute to health risks, decreased productivity, and revenue loss.

Between 2017 and 2019, Ksh11.3 billion worth of counterfeit and illegal products were reported in the country with Ksh4.82 million worth of them intercepted.

To prevent this, the association is dedicated to cleaning up the supply chain through accreditation and training, strengthening border control, and raising awareness among farmers about the risks associated with counterfeit products.

“For a complete eradication of the illegal pesticides in Kenya, there is a need for a concerted effort from all stakeholders,” says the stewardship officer, adding that cases can be reported to the PCPB, nearby police station or government extension officers.

 

Maximum Residue Levels

Ensuring food safety for trade and consumption is another critical aspect that aakGROW focuses on, particularly regarding Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs). Failing to comply with MRL regulations can result in the ban of Kenyan agricultural products from the international markets.

“The sampling of export products imposed by the EU market for testing MRLs is at 20 per cent, up from five per cent and 10 per cent. This means that should this percentage increase, our products are at risk of being banned in the international market,” Ngigi warns.

The rise in the sampling percentage, whose high cost is shouldered by farmers, has been blamed on the use of Dimethoate, a pesticide that was banned 20 years ago, but whose traces are still found in Kenyan products.

“As a result, mechanisms are being put in place by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) to help trace affected products to the production area and once this is done even our local food markets will be safe,” says Ngigi.

Already, a sample MRL test on some products such as kales, tomatoes and onions has given 98.8, 95 and 100 per cent safety levels respectively an indication that most farmers are improving.

 

Responsible pesticide management framework

As a way of ensuring the responsible use of PCPs for better quality of food, better health and environmental conservation, aakGROW is leading the incorporation of the Sustainable Pesticide Management Framework (SPMF) framework in Kenya.

According to Ngigi, SPMF is a program driven by the industry to achieve a step-change in responsible pesticide management based on the International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management.

“SPMF program combines best practices in regulatory and stewardship to create an enabling environment for innovation and build an infrastructure that supports sustainable pesticide management through advocacy for a robust regulatory framework, poison incidence reporting centres, container management programs, and anti-counterfeit activities,” he said.

Kenya is the flagship of the nine countries to launch the project.

 

The framework milestones

Some of the key achievements of the framework since its inception in 2021, include the training of over 17,000 farmers and Spray Service Providers on responsible use of pest control products, 2 surveys on pesticide use trends and residue analysis, technical review of pesticide active ingredients and over 40 tons of empty pesticide containers collected and properly disposed all under the high-risk value chains with significant pesticide use.

Despite the program running for just two years, the foundational years in Kenya have already exerted a positive influence not just locally, but also for the East African community in science-based risk assessment and anti-counterfeit best practices resulting in an optimistic response on the further progress of the program.

Ensuring responsible handling and use of pest control products is the responsibility of all stakeholders in the agriculture industry, ranging from manufacturers to farmers.

The CEO aakGROW, Mr. Eric Kimunguyi notes that, “It is necessary that the implementation of SPMF is pursued in a coordinated effort through collaboration with local and global partners including government bodies, farmer groups, and the civil society to achieve more impact. We therefore invite stakeholders to join us in achieving a step change toward sustainable pesticide management.”

SPMF is funded by CropLife International and supports low- and middle-income countries to advance their local capacity in line with the FAO-WHO Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management. In Africa, the project has been rolled out in Kenya and Morocco and will soon be launched in a third country.

Pest Control Product handlers being trained on responsible use of pest control solutions by AAK Grow/ Croplife Kenya. Photo courtesy
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