Nairobi — According to the law, it is a serious offence to misuse or abuse pesticides, and the Pest Control Products Board is meant to regulate the safe use of pesticides for food production.Through my organisation, WildlifeDirect, I have been calling for a total ban on the deadly carbofuran pesticide locally known by its trade name Furadan in Kenya because it is devastating wildlife.
Carbofuran is intended to kill insect pests and is a neurotoxin that paralyses its victims. WildlifeDirect has documented abuse of this chemical, which may be the most serious threat facing wildlife conservation in Kenya today.To raise awareness and get government help, we called a workshop to address the issue of pesticide poisoning of wildlife in April 2008. It wasn’t until late 2009 that a task force under the Ministry of Agriculture was created to address the issue of pesticide impacts on the environment.
The task force has achieved nothing tangible, and the agency has refused to acknowledge a single poisoning incident report submitted by Wildlife Direct.
The Board has not called a meeting since September 2009 or explained why they have not done so.
WildlifeDirect scientists have been consistently reporting that Furadan has been used to poison lions.
The pesticide is sprinkled onto livestock carcases to kill lions, which cannot detect its presence as it has no smell or taste. Any animal that scavenges on a laced carcass will die within minutes, and that includes jackals, hyenas and vultures.
We have also been reporting the large-scale bird poisoning in Mwea where tens of thousands of birds were killed by the lethal poison in the mid 1990s.
Farmers were reported to be eliminating birds to prevent damage to crops. A researcher documents the use of Furadan to poison wading birds in Bunyala where poachers kill thousands of wild ducks, geese, storks, doves and other birds.
Though produced in the USA by an American firm, FMC, Furadan is not permitted for use in that country after the Environmental Protection Agency declared it unsafe for users, consumers and the environment in December 2009.
After airing a shocking documentary showing the poisoning of lions in Kenya in 2009 on CBS’s 60 minutes, FMC announced a complete withdrawal of the pesticide in all East Africa where they admitted it was being misused.
The poison was removed only from Kenyan stores, and it was simply moved to Tanzania and Uganda. From there it has been coming back across the border and continues to be found in some Agrovet outlets.
We have consistently argued that the pesticide management system in Kenya needs to be revised. Deadly pesticides like Furadan should not be sold over the counter as users are not trained in safe use, and do not use any safety gear.
Given the obvious risks, it seems clear that our regulations and capacity to enforce the law are inadequate.
The Board itself is highly compromised. Located in the Ministry of Agriculture, it cannot be an industry watchdog looking out for the interests of human and environmental health when it is the industry itself that is the main user of these chemicals. No wonder it is allergic to any suggestion of pesticide product bans.
Dr Kahumbu is the executive director of WildlifeDirect.