If any of us were given a warning by an alien, in a language we didn’t understand, with symbols we had never seen before, we would not emerge warned – which is a fact that is now driving legislative reform in Kenya to ensure warnings on pest control products are understandable to every farmer.
The aim is to ensure farms reap far higher yields without causing any damage to themselves or their lands. As it is, the pest control products used in Kenya have been through around nine years of safety testing and more than 100 kinds of tests in order to gain approval for use in their countries of origin, such as the US, Australia and other national regimes that only approve pesticides when they are proven to be risk-free for the prescribed use.
Until they have achieved that, Kenya’s law prohibits their use in Kenya.
But even once they have been tested to identify safe ways of using them – for instance, only up to seven days before harvesting – if farmers use them in other ways, they can still be a hazard. And here lies the problem legislators are now trying to address, in ways that will put Kenya at the vanguard of hazard regulation in Africa.
For, while the country’s law governing the safety and approvals of pest control products remains the strongest on the continent and subject to few reforms, legislators are now looking again at new regulations designed to further prevent the misuse of pesticides.
This is because misuse is often dangerous, even where the correct usage is not, just as with many household products. For instance, bleach and even hand sanitisers, which can save lives by destroying germs on surfaces, can kill if consumed as a drink.
In the case of pest control products, safe use requires set intervals between spraying and eating to ensure the chemicals have broken down before human consumption, protective clothing to stop spray getting onto skin where it can cause irritation or into eyes or lungs, and other safeguards.
But, very often, farmers are not understanding the instructions, which can be written in English, or other languages.
For these reasons, Kenyan legislation already ensures instructions are given in both English and Kiswahili on our labels, but the new regulations are going much further, adopting the United Nation’s Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), which presents hazardous properties in safety labels, safety data sheets and through hazard classifications.
The US, European Union, Australia, and China have all implemented GHS labelling, but its uptake has been slow in Africa due to a lack of resources.
According to 2020 European Chemical Industry Council report, Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Tanzania, and Seychelles, as members of Southern African Development Community, have shown intentions to implement GHS by 2020.
But it is Senegal, Nigeria, and Kenya that are now actually moving towards GHS adoption. This will see new labels that emphasise direct risks and help users to understand them.