By Faith Atieno
Being that the climatic conditions in the tropics favor the existence of pests and diseases, the use of pesticides to protect crops is often inevitable. However, pesticide use in Kenya has come under serious criticism with misuse of these products by farmers being cited as a major challenge.
Timothy Njagi, Development Economist, Tegemeo Institute, states that although the extent of the misuse of pesticide products is not established, it (misuse) is mostly on the horticultural products, especially fruits and vegetables.
He says the misuse is majorly as a result of the collapse of extension systems, specifically the public extension officers, who were the key sources of knowledge and information to farmers on the safe use and disposal of pesticides.
Benson Ngigi, Agrochemical Association of Kenya (AAK)’s stewardship manager defines misuse of pest control products (PCPs) as the contrary use of the products to what has been prescribed on the labels including spraying pesticides in excess, carelessly disposing the pesticide containers, not using protective clothing while spraying, using a particular pesticide for the wrong pest and crop, among others.
He notes, the misuse also arises from ignorance either deliberately due to shortcuts for economic gains or unintentionally because of illiteracy and being new to farming.
“If you interview a farmer without giving any leading questions you’ll notice that most of them are aware of some of the safe use aspects but due to certain pressures and being used to a certain simple way of application they take some of those things for granted,” says Ngigi.
To tackle the challenge of misuse, key among the interventions being implemented by the Pests Control Product Board (PCPB) and AAK is the use of spray service providers (SSPs).
This is a group of people, majorly farmers, who have been trained on identification of pests, application of the correct pesticides, calibration of pesticides, storage and the disposal of the empty pesticide container including obsolete pesticides, according to Ngigi.
Additionally, the trained SSPs are also equipped with necessary tools such as knapsack pump, mask, overalls, gloves, goggles and gumboots which they can use to start the spraying service.
Notably, for a comprehensive training, the Association’s stewardship manager, mentions that the program follows a curriculum and there are steps taken in the selection process of the SSPs.
First and foremost, he says, the SSPs are identified in a participatory way with the farmers and producer groups -either in the cereal value chain or horticultural value chain-they are working with.
Once the community is involved and they have accepted that a particular person can effectively handle the task at hand, they are then taken through a five-day intensive training that is both practical and theoretical on the main aspects of pesticides application.
The training involves various aspects for a better grab of knowledge and understanding of pesticides and it’s application. As Ngigi says, they begin with introduction to pests and diseases, signs and symptoms of pests and diseases, categories of pests including insects, weeds, rodents, fungi among others, and how to differentiate them.
He further explains that those in training are then taught on integrated pest management (IPM). This is the various ways to manage pests besides pesticides.
Classification of pesticides based on their formulation, toxicity and mode of action then follows, where the farmers are given a summarized description so that when they read on the label they are able to clearly and easily understand it.
The curriculum ends with the application of the pesticides-how to measure, mix and apply them, the common equipment used, their maintenance the Dos and Don’ts of application and finally record keeping and first aid because accidents are always bound to happen.
It is after the training that they go back to the farmers to offer services through the linkages to the producer groups such as cereal growers association, who are tasked with utilizing and creating a market with the SSPs.
So far according to the AAK’s CEO, Eric Kimunguyi, although the program is still at its inception stage, they already have around 1400 SSPs but are still trying to accelerate it to ensure its effectiveness. This is an increase from 55 SSPs trained in 2015 at the outset of the program.
“The spray service providers is an innovative thing that we are trying to put as many as possible in the field. We are working with the government and other development partners to accelerate it so that it picks up and reduces causes of misuse,” he says.
To achieve the availability of the service providers and increase their rate of utilization goal, the CEO states that once the association trains farmers they distribute the lists on the AAK’s website and agrovets for easier access.
Joseph Njenga Kibe, a farmer and a spray service provider from Elburgon, says he has attended a couple of trainings including those hosted by AAK.
Prior to the initial training, Kibe says he would try as much as possible to follow the instructions on the container label. However, he had no knowledge of how to protect himself and would spray without any protective clothing such as masks or overall. “I did not understand matters to do with self-protection and crop monitoring after spraying,” he says.
The training however, Kibe says, has made his agricultural practice better because his knowledge on pesticide use and application is now more advanced.
“I now understand most instructions including the diagrams on the label and protect myself while spraying by wearing masks, gloves, gumboots and overall,” he says.
Despite the approved overall-which covers from head to toe, being expensive, Kibe says he at least uses the normal overall and mask that he can afford to ensure his protection.
As an SSP, he explains, they are trained to advise farmers to contact them the next time they want to spray this way the SSP gets to observe and monitor the pest and situation, then tells the farmer what product to purchase and use, afterwards arrange what day to spray- thus prevents incurred loss by the farmer because wrongful purchase and use of pesticides.
Currently, Kibe says most farmers are now seeking their services but it depends with the season. “During the rainy season, you get many customers until you’re forced to serve them on a different day. But during the dry season you might serve two customers in a day or at times none,” he says.
Moreover, according to him, the charges for the service is affordable making it preferable for farmers too. He charges Ksh. 50 (about USD 0.5) for a 20 litre pump, transport fee depending on the distance and a little service fee.
Fabian Kamau Kithaka is a rice farmer and he attended the first SSP training held in Mwea by AAK. He attests that since then, his yields have increased because he now knows how to effectively apply the pesticides to ensure their effectiveness.
Besides with the knowledge gained, he has been able to cut on costs especially labour. He says one acre of his farm used to cost him around Ksh 10,000 (about USD 100) because he had to pay labourers who did weeding for him but now it costs him about only Ksh 3000 (about USD 30)for only the products and maybe pay one or two people to help whenever necessary.
“I now know what type of pesticide to apply in order to reduce the weeds and pests too, this has increased my yields,” says Kithaka.
However, despite the effort and achievement so far, the project is still faced with a number of challenges.
In as much as the farmers have attended the training, acquiring the right protective clothing remains to a challenge because they are expensive. According to Kibe, most SSPs still have no approved overalls and some either use the normal overalls while others don’t use at all.
Dr. Njagi highlights that training of farmers and service providers remains to be a challenge because it is an industry led extension system-being done by individual companies hence, a very small reach. This makes it less effective than it was expected.
According to Kimunguyi, with an estimate of about 8-9 million farmers and 1400 active SSPs countrywide- a ratio that is not equivalent to the actual farming community, the availability of these service providers is challenged.
“As an association there’s that much we can do if we are to target the 9 million farmers; one ssp can only handle a maximum of 20 farmers, when you divide you realize that we need 450 thousand SSPs,” he says.
Kimunguyi adds also that the rate of utilization of the trained SSPs by farmers is still low, approximately below 50 percent as it is still a new concept in the country.
To ensure availability of the spray service providers and increase in their utilization, AAK is promoting the SSPs through digital platforms including their website where farmers can easily get to find them.
Dr. Esther Kimani, the PCPB CEO, mentions that limited funds is still a challenge to the program as it hinders their progress.
In order to reach as many farmers as possible and get to hold the trainings in different counties, sufficient funds is required. Hence, the Board according to her, continues to reach out to their partners for financial support and also enhance their budget to efficiently cover the program.
Despite the challenges, PCPB and AAK are still determined to continuously carry on with the training as well as awareness creation. According to Dr. Kimani, there is a lot of awareness creation that is required to push the idea to as many people as possible, because sometimes it is not that farmers don’t know but they need to continuously be educated to do the right thing.
Echoing Kimunguyi, the PCPB’s CEO says, generally farmers are embracing the service but the system has still not been well organized, therefore in the revision of their new law revision as a board, that is yet to be released in 2022, they are incorporating the service in order to streamline it properly.
Going forward, the Board seeks to enhance surveillance of the foods being sold in the market by testing the products after they have been harvested as well as carry other environmental tests because it will be the best indicator of whether or not there’s an improvement in use of pesticides based on the training program.