Farms in Makueni County are characterized by mango plantations with the crop being at different stages of development.
Some are flowering while others have rather young fruits and others are bigger, probably ready for harvest in a few weeks.
As we are made to understand, the variations in stages of development is a result of different weather conditions and varieties of mangoes.
At Matiliku village we meet Anthony Kimeu, a farmer who whose farm is dotted with mangoes, oranges and some pawpaw fruits.
He is getting ready to spray his mangoes against powdery mildew, which he says, has been a menace to many farmers in the area.
Kimeu is not just a farmer but also a spray service provider serving over 300 farms within his village and in the neighbouring counties of Machakos and Kajiado.
On this day however, he is not just spraying his crop but also demonstrating on proper application of pesticides.
In his company are officers from Pest Control Products Board (PCPB), Agrochemicals Association of Kenya (AAK) and UNIDO Market Access Upgrade Program (MARKUP) Kenya.
PCPB is the government’s institution in charge of regulating importation, exportation, manufacture, distribution and safe use of control products.
AAK on the other hand, is the umbrella organization for manufacturers, formulators, re-packers, importers, distributors and users of pest control products.
Funded by the European Union (EU), MARKUP Kenya is a four-year program which seeks to promote food safety and market access for selected value chains. The program is implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) in partnership with the government and private sector.
The trio, together with Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MALF), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS), Horticultural Crops Directorate (HCD), Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), AAK, PCPB, Ministry of Trade, Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK), Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) and The Europe-Africa-Caribbean-Pacific Liason Committee (COLEACP) have launched a campaign to create awareness on proper use of pesticides, targeting farmers and agro dealers in a bid to enhance food safety and market access.
As should be, the farmer starts by wearing his Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which includes goggles, gloves, a face mask, overalls and gumboots.
He then inspects his spraying equipment to ensure there is no leakage before carefully reading instructions on the pesticides label.
Kimeu measures the right pesticides as recommended in the label and mixes it with some little water in a mixing bucket, he rinses the container thrice before pouring all the mixture into his knapsack sprayer and mixing with water as instructed on the label.
He mixes this mixture thoroughly and heads to spay his mangoes ensuring the nozzle is half a meter from the crop to avoid drift, at the same time keeping constant pressure on the knapsack sprayer and walking at a stable pace.
Having sprayed his fruits, it is time to dispose the pesticides containers.
The farmer punctures the triple rinsed empty bottle and flattens it before putting it in a safe bag awaiting transportation to a collection point based at a nearby mushrooming shopping center
Part of the proposals in the Solid Waste Management Bill which is currently in parliament requires that chemical manufacturing companies and other manufacturers should be collecting empty containers from farmers.
Farmers should not reuse containers for domestic purposes as they may still have toxic residues.
Additionally, they should not throw them in pit latrines as residues may kill microorganism and insects nor burn them in the farm.
The containers should also not be buried as remnants will drain to the soil when it rains.
“Horticulture is the main consumer of agrochemicals and we must therefore emphasize on practices that ensure safety for all starting with the farmers right to the consumers,” says Benson Ngigi, the Stewardship Manager at AAK.
Some of the common challenges in pesticides use, he adds, are the use of under dose, use of wrong application equipment and poor choice of pesticides on specific crops.
Some markets like the lucrative EU, Ngigi notes, have a list of recommended chemicals and farmers should know which are allowed for what crop. The listed chemicals are available from authorized agro chemical shops.
PCPB’s Compliant and Enforcement Officer Nicolas Muendo says there are three aspects of safety while using pesticides.
One is safety of the farmer especially considering that pesticides are hazardous. The other one is safety to the environment because pesticides can kill non target crops, insects and animals if this is not put into consideration.
The aspect of crop safety ensures there is no phyto-toxicity and this is achieved by using pesticides that are authorized.
These, Muendo adds, are some of the vital issues that the campaign will address to educate farmers and agro dealers on proper use of pesticides. MARKUP program will train farmers and agro dealers.