Task Force on poisoning finally making progress

Yesterday we had our second meeting on pesticide poisoning at the Ministry of Agriculture’s Pesticide Control Products Board (PCPB). The Task Force on pesticides and their effects on the environment is discussing the impact of pesticides especially carbofuran.

This is the Fifth meeting following instructions from the Secretary for Environment in the Ministry of Agriculture which came in response to complaints that WildlifeDirect had made with regards to pesticide poisoning of wildlife. Lions were particularly badly off, but vultures, birds, even fish were being deliberately poisoned. Given the human and livestock implications we have now agreed that a representative of the Department of Veterinary Services, and the Ministry of Public Health should be in these meetings.

Can Kenya ban carbofuran?

Despite two years of reports the PCPB had not responded to the concerns raised by conservationists. Even after CBS News aired a documentary on 60 minutes, the response from Kenyan authorities had been aggressively defending the pesticide Furadan (carbofuran) which was alleged to be responsible for  most of the lion deaths in Kenya, bringing the country’s population to the brink of extinction.

The makers of Furadan, FMC responded by publicly announcing that they were withdrawing the product from the Kenyan and East African shelves. We found out later that this was only partially implemented.

WildilfeDirect and friends made direct contact with a number of government officials to raise awareness. This led to the creation of a Task Force to address the problem. The task force is being chaired by the PCPB, finally the agency is talking to us, and hopefully listening. Also present was the agrochemical Association of Kenya, the Agriculture Ministry, the National Environment ministry, the Kenya Wildlife Service and WWF. The owner of Juanco, the company that distributes this deadly chemical is also involved in the meeting.

Our first 3 meetings went off very badly, these officials clearly did not want to be present and nothing of substance was discussed. Tempers were running hot and but we have persisted in arguing our case.

Here are some of the issues of concern.

The Kenya Government has an ac t of legislation that regulates the registration of pesticides. The act has clear instructions of what information is required for pesticides to be registered and how registration can be revoked.

The PCPB is the agency responsible for registering pesticides. They argue that they use even more superior methodology of the FAO and Rotterdam convention. Ie. When it comes to registration, we are basing decisions in Kenya on European and international standards. However, and hypocritically, when it comes to dangers, they will not consider reports, studies or decisions taken by other countries. Carbofuran is no longer in use ion USA or the EU due to risks to user, consumers, and the environment. The PCPB insist that studies must be done in Kenya to prove that the pesticide is  unsafe in Kenya when used according to labelled instructions.

Protective gear is recommended but not available or affordable

Protective gear is recommended to farmers on the labels of most products, but it is not available or affordable

The problem is that pesticides are not used according to the labelled instructions in Kenya.

The FAO generates international hazard ratings for pesticide based on assessments when the pesticides are used according to labelled instructions. We all know that in Kenya, and many other developing nations with poorly educated farmers, labeled instructions are not easy to follow. Take Carbofuran for eg. It’s use requires the user to wear coveralls, a hood, goggles, gloves, and gum boots. The product is to be stored in a locked cupboard.

The simple fact is that there is no small scale farmer in Kenya who uses this protective gear, it is not available or is too expensive.

We argued that the hazard rating should therefore be re assessed based on local conditions of use. Our advice was/is ignored. This means that Kenyans are exposed to dangerous levels of pesticides in their daily farming activities but the PCPB argues that this is misuse and their own fault. We find this to be an extremely irresponsible approach.

We asked for a precautionary approach to be adopted –products that we are not sure about should not be registered. And, it should be easier to ban a product than to register it.

In Kenya once a product is approved for use, there is no follow up monitoring of its use or fate in the environment, or it’s impact on consumers.

This means that we are operating in a vacuum of information. We cannot say that there is no impact of these pesticides if there is actually no data gathering going on. The PCPB has 6 inspectors and two cars. With these resources they are expected to monitor the entire nation. It’s impossible.

And it’s a catch 22. Without scientific data we cannot argue for any pesticide to be banned. Simple isn’t it – teh Government does not collect data and therefore has no evidence that these pesticides are in fact having an impact. What farmers know is also ignored – there is no proof. This system works very well for the agrochemical companies.

According to the PCPB’s annual report, an enormous chunk of their budget is obtained directly from the registration of pesticides. It’s not hard to see why they would be against banning any product. It’s simply not in their interest to cut their own financial stream at a time when they are facing financial difficulties.

Circumstances surrounding the Poisoning of wildlife

Yesterday we were talking about the cause of the problem associated with pesticide poisoning of wildlife. We felt that access to deadly poisons was too easy but the PCPB felt that good access to pesticides was their goal. But there is no control or tracking.  Agrovet outlets will even misinform users and advise them to buy furadan to poison jackals and lions. We discussed the need to train and educate Agrovets, and to raise awareness amongst users of pesticides. But aren’t the Agrovets already qualified to be in this business? Shouldn’t they already know this stuff? It turns out that there is no educational requirement to sell agricultural chemicals. I personally find this hugely alarming. It’s no small wonder that there is so much abuse!

We identified 6 main circumstances leading to poisoning of wildlife and recommended mitigating measures. Human wildlife conflict, Illegal hunting, Non target species and secondary poisoning, disposal of containers and waste pesticides, misuse and abuse of pesticides, accidents and spills.

Our main focus was on Human wildlife Conflict

Across most of Kenya livestock live on the same land with 6 species of predators.  Conflict invariably arises, but the Kenya Wildlife Service is doing major efforts to stop it – putting up fencing, creating conservancies, and dealing with compensation. The Community Wildlife Service arm of KWS engage communities in meetings, workshops, seminars etc. KWS has one of the strongest wildlife anti-poaching forces in the world but despite this we can’t deal with the poisoning issue.

African subsistance farmers

African subsistance farmers do not have proper farming implements let alone safety gear for pesticide application

Photo courtesy of Ifad

However, despite all the efforts, communities  still kill wildlife and poisoning has targeted mainly large carnivores in particular lions, but also hyenas, cheetah and vultures.  Tourism is a major industry and lions the major driving force of tourism. Without lions Kenya will not attract much tourism attention. The major cause for the rapid decline of lions in Kenya has been poisoning. Lions have been poisoned in cases of human wildlife conflict and chemical tests reveal carbofuran karate, strychnine. Lions could go extinct within 20 years.

The reason why communities resort to poisoning a re many. People do what is easy. Spearing is dangerous but poisoning is easy. Furadan is often used because it is easily accessible, and one study found it available in 85% of agrovets. It is cheap and in some places you can even buy it by the teaspoon. Pastoralist have come to realize how effective it is.

Mitigation measures

KWS is already doing a variety of things to minimize human wildlife conflict. On the misuse of pesticides   we proposed the following mitigating measures

  • Public campaign against using pesticides to kill animals – Multi-sectoral awareness of use/misuse of pesticides– we need a very aggressive public campaign regarding misuse of pesticides to kill wildlife – a campaign that complement the govt and NGO efforts to address the problem. Penalties, values of wildlife,
  • Availability of products in areas not required areas – non crop farming areas,
  • Enforcement – collaboration between relevant govt agencies, hotline, responding to incidents
  • Incorporation of emetic and embittering agents in candidate products
  • Monitoring of misuse of pesticides
  • Revise labels for some products to include lion and cross – part of public awareness campaign against mis-use against wildlife
  • Agrovets – training of stockists, incentives, towards making them better business ppl
  • Receipts must be issued with consumer details at purchase points for Class II
  • Field visits for the Task Force to visit affected areas.

We also noted that we need to address the problem of wildlife killings whether by poison or other means. Land is an issue as most of the conflict with wildlife is due to the expansion of human populations into otherwise wilderness areas.  The land use policy of Kenya is important here.

Finally the  management and tracking of pesticide sales is non existent at the moment. We propose that a receipt system is put in place together with enhanced surveillance, training of stockists, traceability of products and registration of businesses. As it stands, most Agrovets are not even registered businesses. The name is not associated with the person who runs the business. Many of these are managed by unqualified dispensers of chemicals.

At the end of a very long meeting it became clear that the ease with which furadan is obtained and used for killing wildlife is a symptom of a much more serious problem with the management of pesticides in Kenya. We hope that by address in the problem of lion poisoning we actually lead to improved pesticide management system s in Kenya for wildlife and people.

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  1. Posted July 15, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Paula thank you very much for the detailed report of this meeting. I hope the politicians wake up. Thank you for your work in Kenya.
    Best regards from Germany

  2. Paula
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    Thanks Uwe your comments are always appreciated. Paula

  3. sauwah
    Posted September 19, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    thanks for your detailed report. i swear all governmental officials are the same. be they in kenya or here in the states. unless their beloved ones or their family are involved, they do not really give a moment of their already paid time to do their job! please inform them that hyenas kill over quarter of the livestock while lions only take about 12%. but every one wants to kill lions for his loss. other loss are from cheetahs,leopards. any killing is just sad and is a definitely a sign of failure on human part. instead of blaming on big predators ( they who have no voice nor power) who only want to live and breed, we should look ourselves in the mirror.

    But keep on going and keep educate the Kenyan people who might get angry enough to throw all these useless stubborn bumps out.

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