Some countries are so envious of our horticulture, they are now malicious

David Nduati  (pictured)  the liaison officer for the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) Thika station, spoke to Metro's Anne Kiruku about Kenya’s efforts to comply with European Union conditions regarding maximum residual limits (MRLs) for the country’s produce entering the EU market.

Q. Has Kenya complied with the MRL levels imposed by the EU?
No, Kenya has not fully complied. However, various efforts are being undertaken to ensure that products exported to the EU meet the necessary standards. These include training farmers on the use of chemicals, which is done through field schools.
Kenya has also come up with the “Kenya Gap” as an initiative to set acceptable chemical levels that should remain in a crop after planting and harvesting.
Q. Is organic farming a viable option of ensuring zero chemicals in crops?
It is impossible to feed a large population through organic farming. This is because organic farming is expensive, labour intensive and impractical. For example, the humus that organic farming advocates is unavailable and expensive to make because it has to be transported from livestock- rearing regions to the farms, which is a costly undertaking. The humus also takes a long time to be turned to absorbable nutrients that can benefit crops. Humus that is on preparation in a given planting season has to wait until the following season to be used in the farm for growing crops.
The organic chemicals advocated by organic farming crusaders have also not been fully tested to show their efficacy. Organic chemicals have proved ineffective in eliminating pests and diseases attacking crops.
Q. Is the EU hypocritical in imposing MRLs, considering that most of these harmful chemicals originate from the EU countries and are exported to the Third World?
Yes, it is unreasonable to impose MRLs and yet they are the major manufactures of those chemicals. They should be more involved in sponsoring programmes to ensure safe farming methods and appropriate use of the chemicals they manufacture.
Q. Some lobby groups in Europe and the US have been advocating for boycott of flowers from Kenya in protest against the oppression of women, who are the majority of workers in the horticultural industry. It is said that these women are sexually harassed, underpaid, and work without protective gear.
This is true. The women working in flower farms are under oppression. The problem is affecting the marketing and sale of products from Kenya. It is being addressing through collaboration of various organizations, for example between the Kenya Flower Council and representatives of small-scale flower growers association.
A lasting solution can only be found through enforcing government rules on employment and the labour laws that are in place to protect workers. Employers under the Kenya Flower Council are the beneficiaries of cheap labour and cannot change the current status of exploitation.
Q. What other issues should the horticultural sector be concerned about?
Kenya is the leading producer of flowers and Israel is second. There has been a lot of malice from competitors in international markets. There was a foreigner [country withheld] who created a bacillus bacteria to infect Kenya’s flowers and then flew on to Zambia. A lot of losses were incurred as a result.
Corruption also needs to be tackled. With proper measures, some of the banned products would not find their way into the country.
Moreover, a fair playing ground should be enhanced when it comes to testing and rejecting of products from other countries. Sectors mandated with testing of imported products should be thoroughly scrutinized to ensure they deliver. Recently, for example, imported seeds were found to have been infested with the mosaic virus. This has led to losses of millions of shillings.
It is also paramount to bring together all the industry’s stakeholders to discuss the issues that have been raised.