Why Kenya is Hurtling Towards Starvation on Policies Set by Non-experts

Equity Bank has set aside KSh3 billion loans for the next five years with the aim of reaching 100,000 food crop farmers through its Kilimo Biashara project.

It is hard to remember any decision that has ever harmed Kenya as much as the recommendation now before parliament that it adopts the European Union’s policies on agricultural inputs and phases them out. 

In fact, as the latest and most disastrous move yet by health policymakers to take over the country’s agricultural policy, it is an overreach where ignorance could cost us 20 per cent of our entire GDP, as well as countless lives.

For there is nothing about the recommendation from the Parliamentary Health Committee to indicate it has examined the policies it wants to be introduced, or understood them, or assessed the impact on Kenya. Nor has it mentioned why the rest of the world – including Kenya itself – has moved into WTO disputes seeking the overturning of the very same policies, or why the African Union has, until now, unanimously rejected them.

The committee has, instead, recommended that Kenya sets aside the risk assessment methods used globally and the standards set by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, to ban any product that is banned in the European Union.

What the health committee does not appear to have realised is that Europe has abandoned science-based assessments, and these bans are not about food safety issues, but part of a comprehensive EU strategy to slash agricultural inputs – now by a further 50 per cent cut in pesticide use and 20 per cent in fertiliser use.

Indeed, WTO petition No. 382 has seen 45 countries including Kenya asking the EU to provide any evidence whatsoever of any food safety issue in these moves. 

In seven years of demands, the EU has never provided that evidence. 

For its political drive to be ‘green’, the EU has adopted two changes that mean it has abandoned inputs without scientific cause. 

The first is the ‘precautionary principle”, which means that it is banning products with no evidence they are unsafe, just in case they might be, despite nine years of more than 100 rounds of tests showing they are not. 

Then, Europe has also abandoned the risk assessment methods developed by the world’s food safety regulators and moved to something called hazard assessment. Risk assessment measures any risk from a product and looks at exposure. 

But hazard assessment only looks at anything that can be dangerous in a product. So, water would fail a hazard assessment: it can scald and cause death by drowning. Bleach would also fail, as drinking it can kill you. But it happens to eliminate many thousands of germs, stopping human diseases and saving a myriad of lives – because we don’t drink it, we clean with it. 

In fact, almost every medicine, from Panadol onwards, and every chemical and substance are known to man presents some kind of hazard, if wrongly used. 

So, Europe has been steadily eliminating pest control products with these new methods.

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However, that has also played to a rising problem in our own Kenyan governance, where health experts are claiming agricultural policy as their domain without agricultural knowledge or even the will to consult the parliamentary committee on agriculture – which surely would have mentioned that these EU policies were being disputed in every international organisation in the world?

As a result, this anomaly now sees Kenya petitioning the WTO to reject the exact same policies that the Parliamentary Health Committee has recommended our parliament adopts. 

I don’t believe the committee has moved to have us withdraw our WTO case: it just didn’t know about it, which must surely count as a woeful breakdown of government, and a constitutional issue that needs addressing.

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Yet it is a skid that we will address. We will either wake up and decide this EU policy needs examining before we adopt it. Or we will adopt it and lose most of our controls on malaria mosquitoes, 80% of our tomatoes, which account for 1/8th of all our vegetable production, as well as around 70% of our maize, nearly all our wheat, most of our potatoes, and over half our coffee production.

Sooner or later, the health committee will face a recount on this agricultural policy it has swallowed without due diligence or grounds because too many people will have died. But for us growers, nothing will silence us as we try to get our own authorities and leaders to look at their own policies and policymaking before they kill us first.

Okisegere Ojepat, CEO Fresh Produce Consortium Kenya.