Pesticides no longer authorized for use in the countries where they are manufactured in the European Union due to their potentially harmful effects on human health and the environment are being pushed to the Global South, according to a new report on the use of pesticides published in Kenya.

Global civil society organizations warned last week that farmers are increasingly using these dangerous chemicals to grow food.

For example, despite being banned in the EU, Kenyan imports in 2018 and 2019 included iprodiones and acetochlors from Belgium and 1,3-dichloropropene from Spain. South Africa imported imidacloprid, which is dangerous to bees, from Germany and France – where it was banned in 2021 and 2022.

In total in 2018 and 2019, EU countries and the UK approved the export of 140,908 tonnes of pesticides whose application is banned in European fields due to unacceptable health and environmental risks.

In Kenya, 44% (1,362 tons) of the total volume of pesticides used are banned in Europe, from where they are exported.

Very dangerous


“Sales data shows that more than 76% (2,353 tons) of the total volume of pesticides sold in Kenya, or 195 products, contain one or more active ingredients classified as highly hazardous pesticides, which have been proven to be pose a potentially high level of acute or chronic risk to health or the environment,” said ecotoxicologist Dr Silke Bollmohr.

She spoke on Friday at the launch of The Pesticide Atlas 2022 – Kenya edition, jointly published by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (HBF) Kenya and HBF Berlin, as well as Friends of the Earth Europe, Brussels, Belgium, Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz, Berlin and Germany PAN Europe- Brussels, Belgium.

At the launch, German lawmaker and chairman of the Food and Agriculture Committee Karl Bar criticized the practice of EU member states, including his native Germany, of exporting pesticides banned by the EU to the countries of the South, as this externalizes the health and environmental impacts of the latter. hazardous substances on the most vulnerable.

The double standard

“Our Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, Cem Özdemir, has proposed to ban the export of pesticides harmful to health and banned here. A ban will end the double standard of banning active ingredients here because we unanimously agree they are too dangerous, while at the same time German companies continue to export them to other countries in outside the EU. We have to put an end to these double standards,” Özdemir said.

Since 2016, the HBF in Nairobi has partnered with community partners and scientific experts to amplify the concerns raised by Kenyans, through a campaign called Toxic Business, led by the Route to Food initiative of the foundation.

The atlas maps the pesticide problem in the local context, but also how world events affect the local agricultural landscape, for example, the influence of a few powerful corporations on national agricultural policies and the profit potential of the sale. of pesticides to smallholder farmers in developing countries. .

In Kenya, pesticides that are not classified as HHPs make up only 22% and only 2% include biopesticides. Corn, wheat, coffee, potatoes, tomatoes, tea and other vegetables – in that order – consume the highest volumes of pesticides, including HHPs.

Food production in sub-Saharan Africa, as described by Kenya, is increasingly dependent on chemical pesticides.

High annual growth rates

The African pesticide market is expected to experience high annual growth rates, for example in West Africa. Use there increased by 177% between 2005 and 2015. Over the same period, total pesticide imports into the region have roughly tripled, with particularly rapid growth in the three largest agricultural markets – the Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria.

Along with population growth and the need to improve productivity, pesticide companies increasingly see the continent’s 33 million smallholder farmers as an attractive market.

“Over the past five years, imports of pesticides by Africa have increased dramatically, particularly in West and East Africa,” said Dr Bollmohr.

“In West Africa, imports have doubled in five years, from 218,948 tonnes in 2015 to 437,930 tonnes in 2020. In 2020, imports from Nigeria alone (147,446 tonnes) exceeded total imports Southern Africa (87,403 tonnes) and North Africa (109,561 tonnes) .

Irreversible damage

Despite the increase in imports in these regions, the informal nature of agricultural production has made it difficult to record the use of pesticides, hence the large discrepancies between the quantities imported and the usage data. For example, in 2020, the FAO recorded the value of imports into Southern Africa at 87,403 tonnes, compared to 27,000 tonnes of pesticides that were used.

According to FAO pesticide use data for 2020 and in terms of leading countries in each region, South Africa leads in the South (26,857 tons), Egypt in North Africa (11,352 tons), Cameroon in West Africa (7,322 tons) and Ethiopia in the lead. East Africa (4,128 tons).

Kenya’s pesticide imports have more than doubled in just three years, from 6,400 tonnes in 2015 to 15,600 tonnes in 2018.

A total of 230 active ingredients are registered in Kenya, including 51 that are no longer authorized in the EU, such as atrazine (Syngenta), trichlorfon (Bayer) and fipronil (BASF).

Pesticide consumption

Globally, the consumption of pesticides amounts to 4 million tons. Half of the substances applied are herbicides, used against weeds; about 30 percent are insecticides, used against insects that can harm crops. And about 17 percent are fungicides against fungal infestations.

The size of the global pesticide market reached a value of nearly $84.5 billion in 2019, with an annual growth rate of more than 4% since 2015.

Over the next few years, the growth rate may increase further. By 2023, the total value of all pesticides used is expected to increase at a rate of 11.5% to nearly $130.7 billion.

Experts at the launch said they were concerned that despite increasing imports of pesticides into Africa, there is not enough information on how they are used and the impacts they have. on human health and the environment.

“Most African governments do not have adequate resources to monitor the impacts of pesticides or the capacity to prevent negative consequences for human health and the environment. The widespread adoption of pesticides means that millions of smallholder farmers are exposed to the risks associated with the use of these chemicals on their farms. Monitoring programs to measure impacts on biodiversity loss, land degradation, adverse effects on a wide range of non-target organisms, contamination of surface and ground water, are not in place in Kenya,” said the authors of the report.

In Kenya, 862 products are currently registered for use in horticulture, of which 32 percent are toxic to bees and 52 percent are toxic to aquatic life.


“In Europe, soil analyzes revealed that more than 80% of the 317 topsoils tested contained pesticide residues. The most commonly found and concentrated pesticides were the long-banned insecticide DDT, the herbicide glyphosate and its breakdown product AMPA, and broad-spectrum fungicides such as boscalid, epoxiconazole and tebuconazole” , said Dr. Bollmohr.

“How polluted Kenyan soils are…we don’t know.

In 2018, in accordance with USAID FOODSCAP project requirements, 1,139 samples of fresh produce intended for export and local markets, tested by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), found that 46% of the samples contained pesticides, while 11% had residue. exceeding EU maximum residue limits. The foods with the highest residues were kale, peas, and bell pepper.

“In Kenya in 2020, a total of 25 different active ingredients were found in tomato and kale samples – 51% of the active ingredients detected were already withdrawn from circulation in the EU a long time ago. Of a total of 25 samples, 60% exceeded EU maximum residue limits. This is particularly alarming as these two vegetables are often purchased from local markets in rural and urban areas and are used in many Kenyan dishes,” Dr Bollmohr said. “In some cases, eight different pesticides were found on a sample, but there are no maximum residue limits (MRLs) for several residues in food.”

No regular monitoring system

“With no regular monitoring system in the Kenyan market, the consumer simply does not know the pesticide exposure they are facing,” she added while calling for consistent, transparent and accessible testing. agricultural products. “While products intended for export are tested regularly and this results in cases where quantities exceed those publicly announced in some cases, as happened recently with excessively high levels of chlorpyrifos in exported coffee to Japan, we never know the local market situation.”

In neighboring Uganda, where some of the pesticides used in Kenya come from, one in four shops sell repackaged pesticides, meaning that instructions on how to use a product “safely” have been removed. Here the report states that 94.3% of stores are operating without an up-to-date license approved by the government, 10.5% of products on the shelves were unmarked or unlabeled products, 73.4% of sales were made without technical advice and 90.1% of stores lacked safety equipment.

In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer – an intergovernmental agency that is part of the United Nations World Health Organization – classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. A 2019 University of Washington scientific meta-study found that the overall meta-relative risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in people exposed to glyphosate-based herbicides increased by 41%.

Action against harmful exports

Along with Germany, other European states that have taken national action against the export of harmful pesticides include France, where a law banning the manufacture, storage and export of pesticides banned in the EU came into force. effective January 2022. These substances may no longer be used to maintain green spaces, trails or forests. Switzerland has banned the export of five particularly toxic pesticides since 2021, with other active ingredients to follow.

In 2019, following the Route-to-food initiative, the Parliamentary Health Committee called for a review of all registered pesticides in the country. In 2020, Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, through the PCPB, initiated this process by reviewing technical evidence – submitted by the public and industry stakeholders – on a shortlist of 30 active ingredients from pesticides.