BY OKISEGERE OJEPAT
Kenya is hurtling towards starvation on agricultural policy set by non-experts
It is hard to remember any decision that has ever harmed Kenya as much as the recommendation now before parliament that it adopts the European Union’s policies on agricultural inputs. A trend where non-experts are left to establish changes in critical sectors will stifle growth of the country.
In fact, it is an overreach where ignorance could cost us 20% of our entire GDP, as well as countless lives. For there is nothing about the recommendation from the Parliamentary Health Committee (PHC) to indicate it has examined the policies it either wants introduced or understood.
Besides lack of assessment in regards to the impact of the policy on growers, the committee is yet to mention why the rest of the world, Kenya included, has moved into World Trade Organization (WTO) disputes seeking the overturning of the very same policies. As if that is not enough, why has the African Union, until now, unanimously rejected the said policies?
The committee has, instead, recommended that Kenya sets aside the risk assessment methods used globally and the standards set by the World Health Organisation and the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation. The latest move by health policy makers to take over the country’s agricultural policy will only lead to alarming incidents such as the rise of food insecurity.
What the health committee does not appear to have realised is that Europe has abandoned science-based assessments, and the move to ban certain products are not about food safety issues, but part of a comprehensive strategy to slash agricultural inputs. If the WTO petition No. 382 sails through, pesticide use will drop by 50% while fertilizer use will dip by 20%.
For seven years, the European Union (EU) has never provided any evidence whatsoever of any food safety issue caused by certain agricultural products. In its political drive to be “green”, the union has adopted two changes, which means it has abandoned inputs without scientific cause.
The first is the “precautionary principle”, which simply means banning products with no evidence that they are unsafe – just in case they might be, despite nine years of more than 100 rounds of tests showing they are not. Then, Europe has also abandoned the risk assessment methods developed by the world’s food safety regulators and moved to something called hazard assessment.
While risk assessment measures any risk from a product and looks at exposure, hazard assessment only looks at anything that can be dangerous in a product. So, water would fail a hazard assessment as it can scald and cause death by drowning. A disinfectant would also fail the test, as drinking it can kill you. But it happens to eliminate many thousands of germs stopping human diseases and saving a myriad lives – because we don’t drink it, we clean with it.
In fact, almost every medicine, from pain relievers such as Panadol, or Brufen, and every chemical and substance known to man, would present some kind of hazard, if wrongly used.
Why are Kenyan health experts claiming agricultural policy development as their domain without agricultural knowledge or even the will to consult the parliamentary committee on agriculture at a time when Europe has been steadily using new methods to eliminate pest control products?
Currently, 45 countries including Kenya are asking the EU to provide any evidence whatsoever of any food safety issue related to farm inputs. The WTO should reject the exact-same policies that the Parliamentary Health Committee has recommended our parliament to adopt.
Policy makers would have surely mentioned that these policies were being disputed in every international organisation in the world, and ought to be adopted after being examined. Or, we will adopt them and lose most of our controls on mosquitoes that spread malaria, 80% of our tomatoes, which account for an eighth (1/8th) of all our vegetable production, as well as around 70% of our maize, nearly all our wheat, most of our potatoes, and over half our coffee production.
I don’t believe the committee has moved to stop our WTO case: it just didn’t know about it, which must surely count as a woeful breakdown of government, and a constitutional issue that needs addressing.
Sooner or later, the health committee will face a recount on this agricultural policy it has swallowed without due diligence or grounds. But nothing will silence us (growers) as we try to get our own authorities and leaders to look at their own policies and policy making.
Mr Okisegere Ojepat is the CEO of Fresh Produce Consortium Kenya