For the last 60 years, the Agrochemicals Association of Kenya has chaperoned the interests of members while shaping the industry’s policies, decisions and events.
In an inclusive interview with HortFresh, the association’s CEO Ms. Evelyn Lusekana talked about the journey so far, the dynamics of the industry in an increasingly sensitive and diverse market and the challenges that have threatened to grind the industry to a halt.
What would you consider as key milestones for the association since it came to being?
The association started in 1958 as an umbrella body for manufacturers, distributors and users and has over 80 members. We fall under a bigger organization called Crop Life International which represents the manufacturers of pesticides globally. Our biggest mandate as AAK is products stewardship which entails managing pesticides and ensuring they are handled in the correct way. This we do by ensuring that we maximize the use of these products while minimizing their effects. We also represent the interests of our members on any issues that concern their businesses. As an industry we have done a lot on training farmers, agrodealers, extension officers and even doctors on responsible use of these products. On training we have been able to cover the whole country.
We manage empty pesticides containers because the biggest problem we have had previously is in disposal. We collect these containers from farmers for purposes of incineration.
We also run a poison information center at the Kenyatta National Hospital with a toll free line on all pesticides levels so in case of poisoning one is able to call the line day or night with a doctor on duty to assist.
Another project is the spray service providers. Here we have taken youth across the country and trained them on pesticides use, spraying, how to diagnose a problem and offer solutions. They offer these services to farmers at a fee. We treat it as a business model that gives the young people jobs. It has been quite successful because the youth have also assisted us in collecting the pesticide containers and in fighting counterfeits in the supply chain.
We have also been actively involved in cleaning our supply chain and tackling counterfeits through accreditation of our dealers and anyone in the supply chain to ensure we weed out malpractices.
Through advocacy and lobbying, we also work closely with the government
How serious is the proliferation of counterfeits and what is the association doing about it?
As in any sector, counterfeits remains a serious threat. We did a study three years ago and were able to identify around six hotspots for counterfeit pesticides including Loitoktok, Kirinyaga, Kisii, Bungoma and Meru. This is because these are areas of high pesticides use or are close to the borders. We have also noted that counterfeiters pick on products which are fast moving and those where our members have created a vacuum in terms of not being able to meet the demand.
What has been the impact of the recently introduced VAT on agrochemicals to the industry? How ultimately will this affect the agriculture sector and the country’s Big Four Agenda?
Currently from the review we have done, our members are not importing pesticides because they still have stock although they would have as they anticipate a clearing of stock. From our review we have had up to 50 per cent decline in entry of new pesticides at the port. Farmers are also not buying because pesticides have become too expensive. The entire value chain has been affected. The ultimate burden will be on the farmer because this tax will be transferred to them. As things are, our farmers are already heavily taxed. We are going to have a proliferation of counterfeits because the pesticides will not be affordable. Farmers will also stop using pesticides which will pose a big threat to food security. We are talking about the Big Four Agenda, we cannot attain that if we cannot protect the interests of farmers and other players in the sector. Pests contribute up to 100 per cent of all farm losses without the intervention of pesticides.
Then we have the cross border issues. Even before the introduction of VAT, pesticides were more expensive in Kenya than in Uganda and Tanzania so our people were crossing the border to get them cheaply. With the new VAT regime, it has now become worse. The agrodealers are already complaining that they are not able to sell. Sometimes these pesticides might not be counterfeits, but they are illegal because they are smuggled therefore denying government revenue.
The Association has been advocating for self-regulation? What is the rationale and why does it matter?
The spirit of any association is to self-regulate. The association is guided by a code of practice which we derive from the FAO International Code of Conduct on Pesticides Management which we use as a basis of self-regulation. Any member joining the AAK has to sign an agreement to abide by the provisions of the code. We have our own mechanisms for disciplining the members which is the non-statutory controls and the Pest Control Products Board, PCPB, has its mechanisms through statutory controls. We are taking this self-regulation to the grassroots with the agrodealers through accreditation. When carrying out farmer training programmes we tell farmers to buy products only from accredited agrodealers.
Agriculture continues to battle emerging threats like Fall Army Worm and Tuta Absoluta. What is the association doing about this?
The Association in collaboration with the government through PCPB has been upbeat in registering products that address these threats and our members already have potent solutions even as they continue being committed to bringing more products that tackle any emerging threats. You can see how we have managed to deal with Tuta Absoluta which is no longer a big threat as it was when it was first reported.
What would you consider the greatest threat to the agrochemical industry in Kenya?
Globally, our portfolio product is shrinking due to the push for safer molecules. This is affecting our local industry which heavily relies on generics that are targeted to be scrapped off.
Mergers, acquisitions and the winding up of some businesses is also affecting local businesses due to reduced operations.
At the local level we are seeing a growing proliferation of counterfeits.
The business environment is not favourable for investors from the recently introduced VAT to the numerous obstacles at the port. It is easier to register a product in the rest of East Africa than it is in Kenya.
The impending ban on plastic containers is also poised to have serious ramifications for the industry because pesticide products are packed in plastics. We are in talks with government on this issue.
The European Union has revised its policy on maximum residue limits and pesticides use. What does this portends for especially horticulture that forms the bulk of exports to that market, and to the use of agrochemicals by local exporters?
The revised EU policy is leaning on limit of no detection, LOD, meaning zero residue on produce that we export to that market. Now in setting the MRLs we consider judicious use of pesticides by farmers and ensuring that they observe good agricultural practices. As an industry, we might provide products that have low PHI or those that are recommended in the EU. But let us not just think of the EU. There is a big misconception that when a product is banned in the EU it should be banned here. Our conditions at home are very different. EU is temperate in climate, they do not have the dynamics of the pests and diseases that we have because we are in the tropics Take a case of Dimethoate that was banned in the EU. It had very good uses here in Kenya. Now there is a push to ban other products locally because the EU has banned them. It is wrong.
That notwithstanding, we cannot overemphasize the need for end users to observe label instructions because what we have noticed is that there is misuse of products from how they are mixed to how they are applied.
What is the place of innovation and technology in the Kenyan agrochemicals sector?
Everything we do as an industry revolves around innovation and technology. We are increasingly seeing pesticide manufacturers changing the mode of action to make them more effective and safe to the user.
We are also encouraging biological pest control methods and local innovations like traps, pheromones and beneficial insects among others as we go green.
As the person at the helm of such a crucial and sensitive sector, what is your philosophy?
I have learnt so much since I took over office in 2016. Each day is interesting and comes with its fair share of wins, challenges and lessons. The industry is growing, and is very dynamic because the players are different. It is heartwarming to be at the driving seat of such a crucial sector and see all the great milestones the industry is achieving.
Any closing remarks?
Agriculture is the mainstay of our economy and our people rely heavily on it for livelihood. But we are killing agriculture. We are importing everything nowadays. We need to relook our policies and strategies and see if they really align to the needs of our people and aspirations of our country. It is a conversation we need to have now more than ever.