Author Archives: Paula

Vulture decline blamed on furadan poisoning – video

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China bans carbofuran!

Dear friends

We believe that our campaign to have carbofuran banned in Kenya is on a positive trend bolstered by the fact that the Pest Control Products Board has for the first time agreed to discuss the recent reports on pesticide poisoning of birds.

However, we remain concerned at the extremely slow pace of response by our government to reports of  pesticide threats to human, environment and wildlife health.We continue to demand that the government authorities take matters more seriously as seems to be happening in the developed world, and now in China.

According to this article in, China, one of the manufacturers of pesticides containing carbofuran that is used in Africa, has now initiated the process to restrict the domestic use of the same chemical.

China’s Ministry of Agriculture has taken new measures to prohibit the use of “high-toxicity” pesticides by restricting registration applications for 22 active ingredients, leading to an eventual use ban for ten of the ais in 2013. The measures have been taken in an effort to “ensure the safety of the country’s agricultural produce” and “help protect its environment,” the ministry states. Starting last month, no new applications for field tests, pesticide registration or manufacturing permits will be processed for the following ais: the insecticides fenamiphos, fonofos, phosfolan-methyl, calcium phosphide, magnesium phosphide, cadusafos, coumaphos, sulfotep, terbufos, methidathion, phorate, isofenphos-methyl, carbofuran, methomyl and ethoprophos; the acaricide/insecticides aldicarb, omethoate, isocarbophos and endosulfan; the rodenticide zinc phosphide; and the fumigants methyl bromide and aluminium phosphide.

On the face of it, this seems to be a good move from China and we applaud the Chinese Government for initiating this process. It is well documented that Evidence suggests that China’s farmers routinely misuse pesticides and fail to protect themselves. A ban on some pesticides will have additional benefits – because 58% of all suicides in China are conducted using pesticides.

A major part of the problem in Kenya is that so many agencies share responsibility for worker safety, food safety, and environmental and wildlife health.

The Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture manages the Pest Control Products Board which licenses and regulate the use of pesticides in Kenya. Their mission is

To provide professional, efficient and effective regulatory service for manufacture, trade, safe use and disposal of pest control products while ensuring safety to humans, animals and the environment.

Although WildlifeDirect has submitted numerous reports of lion and vulture poisoning, poisoning of fish, and poisoning of birds, PCPB’s annual report shows that only one investigation into pesticide poisoning of wildlife was conducted that year.
Finally, China has taken a responsible action by banning pesticides that threaten their people and the land. In Kenya, the Government seeks to increase the access of pesticides to farmers country wide in an effort to improve food security 20 – 50 gms) which makes the product more affordable to small scale and mostly illiterate farmers by packaging the products in tiny containers (small plastic bags with 20). A trader does not require any education or specialised training to sell pesticides.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to observe that Kenyan farmers generally lack health and safety awareness. According to officials at the PCPB, most Kenyan farmers  do not read labels and although they say that protective equipment is provided, I have personally never seen a subsistence farmer wearing any form of protective clothing, or storing deadly chemicals in locked cabinets.

We maintain that by making pesticides widely available to a population that is unable to uses the products safely is negligent and short sighted. We are simply putting deadly chemicals in the hands of largely illiterate population who are not only using these pesticides in a manner that is dangerous to their own health, but to the consumers of the produce and the water consumed, as well as the environment in general including effects on fisheries, insects pollinators especially bee populations, and of course wildlife. This affects the agriculture industry in general as disease resistance grows, pollinators are wiped out and public health and productivity is compromised.

Most Kenyans still believe that the government has their interests at heart and that it makes decisions that are good for them. Well, perhaps it is time for Kenya to take note from the Chinese experience and follow suit by banning dangerous chemicals and removing them from the shelves.

Not Just WildlifeDirect complaining about Carbofuran

Dear Friends,

Sometimes we feel alone in our campaign but there are others out there  who are concerned about carbofuran and other pesticides. Here are some great links

African Answerman wrote a very detailed blog post about the history of Carbofuran in USA here

Here is part of what he wrote

“In California alone more than 77 workers were documented with serious Carbofuran illnesses.

FMC Corporation was the main producer of Carbofuran by 2002. It had either filed for most of the patents or bought them from other companies.

As more and more states independently began to restrict the chemical’s use, FMC looked abroad. Even after the EPA formally banned the product in 2008 and the Supreme Court denied FMC’s appeals in 2009, FMC could continue selling the deadly powder abroad.

It did this directly, but that was bad PR and risked further law suits simply from workers who would be packaging it in the U.S. So instead it licensed the product to a number of willing partners, including China’s Jiangsu Hopery Chemical Co., and that’s the company that continues to sell it to East Africa on license from FMC. In Kenya its main distributor is now Juanco Ltd.

In 2009 reports began to service in Kenya of the awful power of the pesticide, and more importantly, that it was available over-the-counter and was obviously not being used to kill aphids on soy beans. There is very little soy bean production in Kenya.

Children died. What was apparent was that the pesticide had been so successfully marketed in Kenya by Jiangsu, and was so relatively cheap, that small farmers were using it for everything possible, even when it was not particularly effective.

But the misuse of Carbofuran in Kenya drew world attention when Wildlife Direct reported that Maasai near the Mara were using Carbofuran to kill lions.”

The article got a very interesting responsefrom Dan Harms

“Worked with this chemical when I was with the department of Economic Entomology. It was used in the midwest as a granular pesticide applied to corn planting to control corn rootworm….a very toxic chemical for a very damaging pest. Very glad to see it off the market. It was developed as a response to pesticide tolerance in the corn rootworm populations, nothing else would work.

When working with this chemical we took special precautions, in the granular form it tends to be dusty, very toxic. It is a carbamate pesticide with a relatively short half life, the chance of residue on imported crops or food stuffs is very slight.

One of the major problems with carbamate poisons is that they, as cholinesterase inhibitors, build up in the human body. Compounds such as Furadan (carbofuran) are extremely dangerous and cause acute poisoning quickly (thus the lion death) but they also can cause long term damage if repeated exposure occurs. There is a medical test that can be done. If the body is allowed it can recover – so reports of long term damage although probably true are most likely due to negligance or ignoranc on the part of the damaged party. The stuff does carry a skull and cross-bones.”

Carbofuran sold in Africa carries a yellow box with an x in it – despite its toxicity there is no Skull and cross bones!

TV Interview on pesticide poisoning of wildlife with K24’s Jeff Koinange

The issue of wildlife poisoning using Furadan and other pesticides has attracted much concern in Kenya. Jeff Koinange asked me to talk about it on Capital Talk, K24 on June 28th 2011. The interview raised a flurry of tweets and FB messages as well as hundreds of emails from concerned Kenyans saying WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS!

Here is the interview in 4 parts

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YouTube DirektPaula Kahumbu Jeff Koinange interview on Furadan

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YouTube DirektPaula Kahumbu Jeff Koinange Furadan

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YouTube DirektPaula Kahumbu Jeff Koinange Furadan

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YouTube DirektPaula Kahumbu Jeff Koinange Furadan

Shocking video on bird poisoning with pesticide in Kenya

Dear all,

We didn’t want to release this film as it is so disturbing. But then we owe it to the Kenyans whose lives are at risk.

Here’s hoping that the Kenya Government will do something about this disaster about to happen.

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Click here for video on poisoning of birds in Bunyala

Bunyala poisoning with Furadan in May 2011

Birds procured using "furadan" in Bunyala today

birds procured using "furadan" in Bunyala today

Dear Friends, this is the scene in front of our Martin Odino who is on the ground in Bunyala. The poisoning of birds and fish using Furadan continues despite FMC’s promise that the product is not available throughout East Africa (a HUGE lie) and despite the Kenya Governments promise to do something about it.

Martin writes about these photos

“Poacher preparing bait to ”burry’ in the mud in the plots;mimics
underwater food and dabbling ducks will discover it, feed and get
intoxicated. The rice (still in husk) is looking purplish because it
is laced with Furadan.

Poisoned  Fulvous Whistling Ducks

Live, intoxicated duck by Furadan”

Victim of Furadan poisoning - Fulvus whistling duck

Victim of Furadan poisoning - Fulvus whistling duck

Bunyala poisoning May 2011 099

Vultures poisoned in the Masai Mara

Dear Friends,
It’ is another sad day for wildlife in Kenya. We have just heard that at least vultures were poisoned after consuming a wildebeest carcass laced with a pinkish-purple powder in the periphery of Siana Conservancy adjacent to the Masai Mara National Reserve.This could be Furadan or Marshal (a carbosulfate) – both are produced by FMC.
It is not clear why the local community would lace a wildebeest.
The information has been sent to us by Munir Virani from Will Cowell, Leleshwa Camp, Paul Kirui, Sammy Nkoitoi and Lesaimon Sankai. We thank then  for all their help. Enoch from WildlifeDirect is on the scene as well as Kenya Wildlife Service who have taken samples.

We will post updates as information becomes available

Bayer stops producing Aldicarb – FMC should do same with Carbofuran

August 17, 2010

Bayer Agrees to Terminate All Uses of Aldicarb

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Bayer CropScience, the manufacturer, have reached an agreement to end use of the pesticide aldicarb in the United States. A new risk assessment conducted by EPA based on recently submitted toxicity data indicates that aldicarb, an N-methyl carbamate insecticide, no longer meets the agency’s rigorous food safety standards and may pose unacceptable dietary risks, especially to infants and young children.

To address the most significant risks, Bayer has agreed first to end aldicarb use on citrus and potatoes and will adopt risk mitigation measures for other uses to protect groundwater resources. New measures to protect shallow drinking water wells in vulnerable areas of the southeastern U.S. coastal plain and lower application rates will be immediately added to product labels for use on cotton, soybeans, and peanuts.

The company will voluntarily phase out production of aldicarb by December 31, 2014. All remaining aldicarb uses will end no later than August 2018. Additionally, EPA plans to revoke the tolerances (legal pesticide residues allowed in food) associated with these commodities. EPA did this to ensure we have the safest food supply possible.

Based upon current toxicological studies, aldicarb at levels higher than those typically found in food has the potential to cause various effects such as sweating, nausea, dizziness and blurred vision, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Aldicarb is registered for use as a systemic insecticide and nematicide on agricultural crops, and is formulated and marketed solely as a granular pesticide under the trade name Temik. During the phase-out, the pesticide will continue to be registered for use on cotton, dry beans, peanuts, soybeans, sugar beets, and sweet potatoes. Aldicarb products are not intended for sale to homeowners or for use in residential settings. A restricted use pesticide, aldicarb may be applied only by trained, certified pesticide applicators.

The memorandum of agreement and the agency’s updated dietary risk assessment and supporting materials will be available in the aldicarb reregistration docket, EPA-HQ-OPP-2005-0163, and in the aldicarb Special Review docket, EPA-HQ-OPP-2006-0197, at

The U.S. has a safe and abundant food supply, and children and others should continue to eat a variety of foods, as recommended by the federal government and nutritional experts.

More information:

To view the dockets:

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.

Sifting through the issues

Hi, this is Ngaio again. 

Thanks to everyone for their comments and research. I think a few major issues are emerging here.

First and foremost, there is the issue of whether or not wildlife mortality and endangerment to human health have arrisen from legal (or labeled) useage or from illegal use. If it arises from legal use then FMC definitely has to take responsability for that.  Now, strictly speaking, the company is not responsible for individuals using carbofuran illegally, but they are knowingly manufacturing a highly toxic compound that is being purchased to poison wildlife, not just for agricultural purposes. We are talking about numerous incidences that are decimating wildlife populations, not just one or two isolated cases. If FMC had andy sense of corporate responsability they could launch an education campaign and carry out a proper risk assessment relevant to Africa to establish various toxicity levels to the species likely to be exposed. But would an effective education campaign then result in a decrease in their sales? And might a risk assessment reveal the risks to wildlife?

Howard, you made a good point–I completely agree that we need to back up our claims with some good, hard science. We cannot afford to be emotional on this one, it’s too easy to tear down emotional arguments. It would be very useful to see what sort of hard data FMC has. I was interested to read Jophie’s post regarding the claim that a hippo would have to consume 300 to 500 kg of carbofuran at once to die. Is this on the basis of toxicity tests carried out on hippos or surrogate species who would respond similarly? What dose level would this correspond to? To make some headway, we will need to be able to clearly establish that a) the animal was exposed to carbofuran in x formulation, b) the exposure to the carbofuran was the predominant or only cause of death and c) the level of exposure was consistent with a legal / illegal application.

Another issue is the root cause of the poisoning: human-wildlife conflict. As Dipesh says, it’s going to take more than banning a compound (or suggesting a ‘safer’ alternative) to make the problem go away. Colleen, I thought your point about promoting more harmonious and equitable farming practices was very relevant. It’s certainly necessary to encourage people not to take matters into their own hands and go after a lion that has killed some of their livestock, for example, but it is also critical to take steps to minimise livestock losses in the first place. An audit of farming practices, crops and use of pesticides would likely reveal the occasions when pesticides are used, but not actually necessary. I’ll have a look through the list you sent and see about contacting some of the groups.

I guess the thing that strikes me the most, at the moment, is the argument that carbofuran does not pose an ‘unreasonable’ risk. This is a chillingly ambiguous term. Are we to believe that the wildlife and human health incidents noted up to now are ‘reasonable’ risks then? Who is setting this threshold?