Dr. Muo Kasina from the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Institute (KALRI) says that a large number of horticultural farmers in Kenya spray their farms with chemicals or pesticides that damage the nervous systems of bees making them to forget their colonies or beehives – a phenomenon known as colony collapse.
Dr. Kasina cited Karate Zeon, as an example of a pesticide brand commonly used by Kenyan farmers which belongs to a broader category of pesticides known as neonicotinoids that adversely affect the nervous systems of bees, and hence undermine pollination.
Details from a website by syngenta, the Company that invented Karate, indicate that other pesticide brands that contain the active ingredient known as Lambda-cyhalothrin, include Icon, Demand, Commodore, Warrior, Kung Fu, Hallmark and Matador. Some of these brands are also available on the Ugandan market.
“Karate is very commonly used by farmers especially during harvesting periods to kill pests such as Aphids as a way to secure greater value. Unfortunately most of the farmers are unaware of its associated adverse effects especially to the life and functioning of bees,” said Kasina.
Kasina delivered the warning while presenting a paper on; Securing Pollination for Food, Nutrition and Trade, at the Second Africa Conference of Science Journalists 2014 that was held in Nairobi last week.
The warning over pesticides in killing bees comes amid concerns especially coming from European consumers who are Kenya’s biggest market for flowers, vegetables and fruits, that the country’s fresh exports contain heavy residues of pesticides that are linked to cancer.
Last year Europe threatened to ban all exports of fresh produce from Kenya over its heavy use of a chemical compound known as dimethoate that used in many pesticides.
According to the Kenya Horticulture Council, the sector is one of the fastest growing in the wider important agriculture industry that supports majority of Kenyans. KHC says that the sector recorded average growth rate of between 15-20% over the past few years and provides employment to up to 4.8 million people.
2009 data by the Horticulture Crops Directorate of the Ministry of Agriculture shows that the country earned Kshs 25,650 billion (Approximately Ushs750bn) from vegetables alone. The country earned Kshs 7,583 billion(Ushs 225bn) from fruits making Kenya the second biggest exporter of fruits after South Africa.
But the threat of colony collapse, as pointed out by Dr. Kasina, is a real and present danger to such an important sector, even though it is less understood and appreciated especially by farmers but also by regulators.
Kasina drew from a research study conducted in Kenya, the Netherlands and Brazil which revealed that Kenyan bees are more sensitive to commonly used pesticides, and yet most of the chemicals used do not undergo the needed testing to ascertain their effect on bees.
With the realization that seeds form the foundation for agriculture and hence life, Dr. Kasina urged journalists to sensitize farmers on the careful application of pesticides given their associated adverse impacts on ecosystems.
Kasina further urged farmers to explore more ecologically-friendly pest control measures such as biological pest controllers and other bee friendly pesticides. Some of the recommended options especially for sensitive sectors like horticulture, he argued, include pesticides based on botanical properties such as Neem-based pesticides, synthetic formulations and oil-based pesticides. He also warned against spraying during windy periods which results into chemicals spreading to unintended fields where they can cause more damage.
Kasina acknowledged however that pesticides are far from being the only threats to pollination. Human beings who regard bees as pests along with the vagaries of climate change have dealt a another blow to the population of bees in Kenya, said Kasina.
Fortunately perhaps, the country is taking some proactive steps to protect bees and consequently their services to the horticultural sector and the broader ecological system.
According to Kasina, seed producers and organic farmers are now deliberately breeding bees on their farms to facilitate seed formation or development of good quality products. It may be interesting to learn, as Kasina revealed, that the quality of juice in passion fruits is determined by the quality of fruits which is itself a function of good pollination.
The magic of bees goes beyond just pollination, as participants in the science journalist’ conference discovered this week. Using their stinging power, conservationists from the Kenya Wildlife Service are now deploying bees along the fences that separate parks and private farms, to guard against elephants from invading people farms.
In the end, bees not only sustain Kenya’s vibrant horticultural sector, they’ve also proved to be a potential source of income through sale of honey but also as a guard against destructive power of beasts like elephants.