Hazardous bargains

July 10, 2014

A joint research by two Kenyan universities has established that most fruits and vegetables sold in the country contain a cocktail of harmful pesticides and heavy metals that exceed safe levels.

The research, conducted by the University of Nairobi and Strathmore University, tested numerous samples of common vegetables and fruits drawn from open-air markets and supermarkets. The samples from the capital city, Nairobi,  the agricultural hub fo Nakuru and Machakos town found that kale, amaranth, tomatoes and mangoes contained chemical residues at levels not regarded as safe by the World Health Organisation (WHO). High levels of lead were also detected in samples collected from farmers in Machakos town.  

The report titled, Evaluation of the safety of selected fruits and vegetables sold in the domestic markets in Kenya, also revealed that poor production and handling practices also increased the risk of contamination of most raw fruits and vegetables. The researchers pointed out that the need to carefully regulate the use of pesticides on fruits and vegetables to ensure they do not pose unreasonable risks to human health or the environment. Kenya imports at least 7,000 metric tonnes of pesticides worth 58.6 million euros annually, according to the country’s Pest Control Products Board.

According to the lead researchers, the findings reveal that a large population of Kenyans are at risk of contracting health problems due to high levels of pesticides in their fruits and vegetables.

The study, conducted between July and August 2013, was commissioned by a multi-stakeholder forum Agri-ProFocus* and the agricultural consortium on horticulture, food and security, whose members are Solidaridad, SNV and Hivos. Funding for the research was provided by the Dutch government.

*Agri-ProFocus (APF) is a partnership with Dutch roots that promotes farmer entrepreneurship in developing countries.