Kenya to stick with cancer ‘causing’ weed killer

By Gatonye Gathura

Kenya will continue using popular pesticides linked to cancer even as more evidence associates the weed killers to the disease.

The agriculture chief administrative secretary, Andrew Tuimur has told farmers to continue using glyphosate-based pesticides while distributors have gone on the offensive to defend the controversial products.

The Agrochemicals Association of Kenya (AAK) says there are more than 50 registered brands of the product in Kenya and strongly defended their safety.

Of all marketed variants of the glyphosate-based herbicides, Roundup has been the most popular globally as well as in Kenya.

AAK said the registered brands in Kenya have all been assessed by the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB), as required and found safe.

But from our inquiries, neither the board nor AAK were able to show any evidence of such local safety assessments.

Rattled by the increasing hostility against the glyphosate, recently AAK, launched what it says online is a new campaign to educate farmers on safe use of pesticides.

The target of the USAID supported campaign, said AAK, Chief Executive Officer, Eric Kimunguyi, is to make pesticide handling safe for everybody.

But this may be too little too late with local evidence showing many Kenyans are already suffering the ill effects of pesticides.

For example, a study published by Egerton University and the Western University of Ontario in 2015, found a strong link between ill health in hundreds of residents of Naivasha and use of pesticides in the flourishing flower farming in the area.

The study medically examined 800 residents of Kamere, Kwa Muia, Kioto and Karagita areas near the Naivasha flower industry.

More than a third of the examined residents, 302 worked within the flower farms while 56 per cent, 499, did not work in the flower industry.

Almost half of the residents, 47.2 per cent the study says reported general weaknesses and headaches.

On examination, 34.3 per cent of the residents had respiratory problems including coughs, breathing difficulties and asthmatic attacks.

The frequency of symptoms in skin and lymph nodes; eyes; nervous system; bones joint or spine; and lungs and chest were almost two times higher in flower farm workers compared to non-flower industry workers.

But even those not working in flower sector the report says displayed unusually high levels of disease symptoms which was linked to the possible presence of pesticides residues in the environment.

But more alarming is the heavy use of glyphosate in the tea growing areas and weak farmer training programmes.

A study on the safe use of herbicides among 746 tea farmers in Bomet County, one of the areas with the highest rates of throat cancer in Kenya showed high use of glyphosate-based pesticides.

The study published by JKUAT showed Roundup being used by more than half of the farmers. The other half also use glyphosate based herbicides including Twigasate, Eraiser, Glyweed, Glycel, Touchdown, Wound out and Mamba in that order.

The study found almost a quarter of the farmers to have no training in the safe use of pesticides.

Only 13 per cent of the farmers go to a hospital when they experience a health problem related to the use of pesticides.

More than half of the sampled farmers, the report says are young, aged 25-40 years with 20 per cent under 25.

“Prolonged use of glyphosate can lead to chronic illness especially to young persons who use it regularly,” says the study.

In the ongoing US court case, the married couple of Alva and Alberta Pilliod say they developed blood cancer (non-Hodgkin lymphoma) within four years of each other due to prolonged use of Roundup.

Both Alva and Alberta sprayed the herbicide for roughly 30 years on their properties.

Data shows Kenya to have recorded an explosive use of pesticides in the late 1990s due to the growth of the horticulture and the flower industry mainly for the export market.

“This may partially explain the recent spike in cancer incidence as early users of pesticides start to age,” says David Makumi, Chairman, Kenya Network of Cancer Organizations.

The role of pesticides in cancer, Makumi explains has been discussed in policy documents but with no enforcement.

“The government seems impotent in protecting Kenyans from the negative health effects of bad pesticides despite there being safer alternatives.”

The National Cancer Control Strategy 2017-22 advocates for farming methods that reduce cancer risks “such as safe use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides.”

However the agriculture chief administrative secretary Tuimur, says Kenya follows the European Union recommendations, which authorise the use of glyphosate in farms until 2022.

At a Glance

  • Kenya to continue using glyphosate based pesticides
  • Glyphosate linked to cancer
  • Vietnam ban glyphosate pesticides
  • 3rd case against glyphosate ongoing in US
  • Sh37 billon awarded in previous two US cases
  • 50 glyphosate based pesticides registered in Kenya
  • Local evidence links pesticides to bad health
  • Local industry defends glyphosate as safe

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