Global climate

At the popular agro-shop in Kakamega, western Kenya, small-scale farmers on Thursday lined up patiently waiting to be served.

Some bought seeds, others fertilizers, but a majority were seeking farm chemicals, mostly pesticides for both livestock and crops.

The crowding at the shop is replicated at hundreds of others in various urban and rural centers across Kenya as demand for farm chemicals rise.

At the agrovet shops, the small-scale farmers normally describe symptoms of the disease or pest that has attacked their crops or animals, then they are given chemicals to use.

The popularity of the shops has risen in the last few years as climate change leads to an increase in stubborn pests and diseases.

In maize, the east African nation’s staple, fall armyworms, head smut and lethal necrosis disease are among pests and diseases pushing small-scale farmers to pesticides.

The severity of the diseases and pests is linked to climate change effects.

Tomato farmers are grappling with Tuta absoluta moths, bacterial wilt thanks to unpredictable cold spells and common pests like whiteflies which have become resistant.

Fruit farmers in the east African nation, similarly, have turned to chemicals to eliminate pests like whiteflies, aphids and mealybugs, which in the past months were emboldened by lengthy dry spell.

“It has become really hard to farm without chemicals. I never used to spray my maize with chemicals. I would only apply fertilizers, weed and wait to harvest,” said George Ambuche, a maize farmer in Kakamega.

But these days, one is assured of battling fall armyworms or diseases like head smut or maize necrosis.

“This is the third season I have sprayed my maize with chemicals to curb armyworms. I spend an average of 8,000 shillings (78 U.S. dollars) on chemicals for my two acres,” he said.

Vegetable, fruits, maize, potato, capsicum and tomato farmers lead in pesticide use in the east African nation, according to agro experts.

For tomatoes, one must spray against whiteflies, early and late blight, aphids and blossom end rot, the common pests and diseases that attack the crop.

“Changes in the weather have made tomato farming expensive because you must use chemicals at all stages, from the time they are still seedlings to harvesting,” said Bernard Musyoka, a farmer.

Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro-consultancy, noted that climate change has brought huge business to agro-dealers.

“In the past, farmers would use organic ways to control pests, which included grounding chilli and spraying it on vegetables. But this no longer happens as most rely on pesticides to weed their farms and grow crops,” she said.

The reliance on pesticides to produce food has birthed a multi-billion dollars farm chemicals industry in Kenya.

However, the huge increase in pesticide use among small-scale farmers in Kenya is worrying experts, who note that a majority of producers are misusing them.

Daniel Maingi of Kenya Food Rights Alliance observed that pesticide use in the country has hit an all-time high thanks to ease in accessibility at agrovet shops.

“Farmers are spraying so many pesticides on our vegetables, tomatoes and fruits to the level that they are becoming a threat to people and environment,” he said.

He noted that most farmers turn to chemicals even when they are not supposed to.

“The pesticides have been marketed as the panacea to all problems famers face. Sadly, while there might be need to use pesticides, the misuse is worrying,” he said.

In 2018, Kenya imported 17,803 tonnes of pesticides valued at 128 million dollars.

The pesticides are an assortment of insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, fumigants, rodenticides, growth regulators, defoliators, proteins, surfactants and wetting agents.

Insecticides, fungicides and herbicides account for about 87 percent of the imports. Enditem

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