P A N U P S
Pesticide Action Network
Awareness of Agrichemical Hazards in Rural Kenya
February 28, 1995
Agriculture is considered vital to Kenya's economy, and in an
effort to improve crop yields, large amounts of chemical
pesticides are brought to rural areas . The national Pest
Control Products Board estimates that Kenyan farmers spend
over 700 million Kenyan shillings (KSH) or US$30 million
annually on pesticides.
The Department of Community Health at the University of
Nairobi conducted a study of health effects and socioeconomic
conditions of pesticide use by small-scale farmers in Kenya
to assess the behaviors and attitudes of communities
regarding pesticide handling. Specific objectives of the
-- to identify the types of pesticides found in the
-- to observe where and how they were handled and stored;
-- to note disposal methods for empty containers and leftover
-- to determine whether farmers understand and follow label
-- to establish use of protective clothing during handling
-- to measure awareness and assess practices;
-- to develop baseline data about what pesticides are used
and determine extent of use in selected communities;
-- to develop and disseminate in the community a health
education package based on the study.
Researchers selected the rural community of Githunguri in
Kiambu District, located about 50 km northwest of Nairobi as
the site of the study. Farmers in the area grow coffee and
tea as cash crops, and maize, pulses, potatoes, vegetables
and other horticultural crops for staples. The research team
randomly selected ten of the 34 villages in the area, and
interviewed an adult member of 1,797 of the 2,454 households
in the study area.
The survey confirmed a high frequency of agrichemical use, as
all households reported that they either were currently using
pesticides or had used them within the preceding six months.
Almost 52% of the respondents said they were in contact with
agrichemicals continuously throughout the year, and more than
46% reported using these chemicals during every crop season.
Members of the community other than farmers, including coffee
factory workers, career spray operators and women who sell
agrichemicals in the markets, also reported high levels of
Improper storage and handling procedures created further
exposures. Slightly more than 62% of the households reported
that they stored their pesticides in living areas where the
family sleeps and cooks meals. Half the respondents
reportedly mixed their chemicals in cooking pots or water
containers, and almost all empty chemical containers were
converted to domestic use. Of the respondents who had
agrichemicals in an original labeled container, 60% could not
make sense of the written instructions or warnings. This
included many literate farmers, for whom the instructions
were often too technical to be understood. About 69% of
respondents stated that they take precautionary measures when
handling certain chemicals.
During the period of the study, 133 cases of agrichemical
poisoning were treated at Kiambu District Hospital alone,
including eight deaths. With the high frequency of hazards
and the farmers' belief that no effective alternatives to
pesticides exist, investigators found the situation called
for urgent steps to be taken to ensure safer handling of
pesticides. After the survey was completed, the
investigators, together with a multi-disciplinary district
team, developed a health-education curriculum for different
target groups in the community.
As the study indicated, the encouraged use and misleading
advertisement of agrichemicals, combined with their easy
access in local markets means that pesticide illness and
misuse are widespread throughout Kenya. Records from the
Kenyatta National Hospital indicate that at least two cases
of pesticide poisoning are seen daily (730 cases annually).
Of Kenya's estimated five million agricultural workers, an
estimated 7% or 350,000 are poisoned annually. Put into
financial terms, this results in an annual economic impact of
336 million KSH or approximately US$15 million.
The findings of this study are published in the proceedings
of a symposium examining the health impacts associated with
pesticides in developing countries held in 1990 in Canada.
The symposium brought together scientists from 18 developing
countries, seven industrialized countries and two United
Source: M.A. Mwanthi and V.N. Kimani, "Agrochemicals: A
Potential Health Hazard Among Kenya's Small-Scale Farmers" in
G. Forget, T. Goodman, A. de Villiers (eds.), Impact of
Pesticide Use on Health in Developing Countries,
International Development Research Centre, 1993.
Contact: International Development Research Centre, P.O. Box
8500, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3H9, (613) 236-6163.
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