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Food security experts call for revival of extension officers

Local and international agricultural experts yesterday claimed that lack of extension services has contributed to misuse of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers by small-scale farmers.

The experts said there is need to reintroduce a vibrant extension service system in the country with a view to enlightening growers on new farming techniques and more so, on how to use chemicals.

Ratemo Michieka, a professor of weed science and environment at the University of Nairobi, said the reality is that farmers misuse pesticides and herbicides which have negative effects on animals, human beings and the environment.

“Despite the guidelines on the labels, farmers lack knowledge on how to effectively use the chemicals. This has led to low crop production and low soil fertility with the overuse causing high acidity in soils,” said Michieka.

He made the remarks yesterday at the first International Conference on Agroecology Transforming Agriculture and Food Systems in Africa in Nairobi.

Kenya, he said, was rated among other countries where farmers use low amounts of pesticides compared to countries like the UK, US, China, Canada and Australia which grow genetically modified crops.

Quality pesticide

Misunderstanding in the agriculture sector, he argued, follows low provision of extension services to educate farmers on careful use of quality pesticides and good agricultural practices.

“If farmers are educated well, they stand a better chance to differentiate adulterated fertilizer and chemicals,” said Michieka.

In the early 1970s and 90s, the agriculture sector was vibrant owing to the presence of an effective extension service provision.

The government stopped hiring extension service officers in early 1990s after the introduction of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Small-scale farmers were left at the mercy of unscrupulous agro-dealers who advise them based on the products they have stocked.

Following the introduction of devolution seven years ago, the situation has worsened with the counties allocating low resources to the sector.

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