Farmers led by industry associations have lodged a petition with Parliament seeking the review and overturning of a recommendation from the Parliamentary Health Committee that they claim will be catastrophic for Kenya. The associations include Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya, the National Potato Council of Kenya and the Cereal Growers Association.
Under pressure from environmental lobbyists and following a petition from the organic farming group, Route to Food, the health committee took up a new mantle of determining agricultural policy in Kenya and has recommended to Parliament a ban of all agricultural inputs that have been banned in Europe.
However, the committee did not review the European Union policies that have led to the bans, taking it on the word of NGO witnesses that these were food safety issues, and failing to ascertain that the policies that have led to the bans in Europe have been disputed by the rest of the world, including Kenya, as unscientific trade barriers.
Kenya is one of 45 countries that has contested the EU’s input policies and bans through the World Trade Organisation, in a seven-year dispute, number STC 382, in which the EU has been asked to provide scientific grounds for the bans, which it has never done. The policies have also been rejected by the US as unscientific and also fly in the face of the world food safety system run jointly by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.
“It speaks to a constitutional oversight that the health committee can recommend the most serious agricultural policy change in a generation and never even seek the input of the agricultural committee or any agricultural policy makers, appearing to be completely unaware, too, of our own nation’s foreign policy and trade position on the same matter,” said Ojepat Okisegere, CEO of the Fresh Produce Consortium, Kenya.
He said the committee has, ironically, recommended the ban of insecticides used to control malaria, which will lead to potentially tens of thousands of deaths, as well as crop protection in the middle of a locust invasion. It also comes at a time climate change has increased the pests and diseases afflicting agriculture through higher temperatures and more weather conditions.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mr Peter Munya recently announced a new drive to address the rising pest levels, saying Kenya needed to boost overall farmer productivity and protect agriculture from external threats, including the introduction of foreign pests and diseases.
However, the health committee has simultaneously asked Parliament to ban the majority of the country’s crop protection products, in what the opponents say will lead to a near-immediate maize crisis, close the country’s coffee estates, cut tomato production by 80 per cent, and savage the production of potatoes, wheat, rice, onions and most other crops.
Mr Okisegere added: “These proposals are catastrophic. We believe they will cut Kenyan GDP by more than 20 per cent and deliver waves of new hunger and poverty. Yet, for all that damage, we will not make any gain in food safety. If the committee had even looked at the EU policy, Europe has determined to cut agricultural inputs by targets, claiming it will slow climate change, but without any evidence of how.”
Mr Okisegere says the policy does not show food safety as the cause for its further targeted cuts of 50% of pest control products and 20% of fertiliser. “We hope with this petition that the government will reconsider where agricultural policy should sit, under what circumstances we adopt foreign legislation, when we act in opposition to our own trade and foreign policy positions, and whether it is right to sacrifice our food security and GDP without any impact assessment at all,” he says.