Kenya’s coffee risks ban in Japan over higher pesticide residue

Metrin Wafula, a coffee farme

Metrin Wafula, a coffee farmer in Cheptais in Bungoma County, harvests berries in 2019.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Kenya’s coffee farmers risk losing the Japanese market following the detection in beans excess Chlorpyrifos, an active ingredient used in pesticides.

Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) said in a recent letter to exporters that Chlorpyrifos had been detected in beans at 0.06ppm, which is above the maximum residue limit of 0.05ppm.

“The government of Japan has notified Kenya that the frequency of monitoring tests of Chlorpyrifos on fresh coffee beans from Kenya at quarantine upon arrival in Japan shall be raised to 30 percent level of official records,” said Prof Theophilius Mutui, Kephis managing director.

Prof Mutui said Kephis has sensitised coffee farmers to avoid or reduce applying the pesticide to adhere to international markets. standards

Japan is Kenya’s sixth largest importer of coffee having earned the country Sh1.5 billion in foreign exchange last year. The Japanese market imports mainly high quality grade AA coffee from Kenya, with the bulk of which is used to blend other varieties.

Prof Mutui observed that a rise in inspection in Japan has led to increased costs.

“What this means is that if the level of inspection was 10 per cent, the number of cartons checked were 10. But if they push this to 30 per cent, this means they have to inspect more,” Prof Mutui told Seeds of Gold.

Monitoring tests

The frequency of monitoring tests in Japan to ensure compliance means that the Kenyan coffee is under close scrutiny.

In the coffee sector, the active ingredient Chlorpyrifos is used in pesticides to control a number of pests such as antestia bug, berry borer, mealybug, termite, ant, leaf miner and scales.

John Ngeno, an agronomist at the Department of Seed, Crop and Horticultural Sciences at the University of Eldoret, said that most local growers don’t follow the laid down spraying regime leading to exceedance of pesticide residue in coffee beans.

“The problem is the farmers’ spraying regime in that they don’t adhere to the 21 withdrawal day interval. It is important for farmers to spray early in the season and not towards harvest time, what happens in most cases,” said Ngeno.

He said coffee beans are the raw materials for coffee beverage industry. Antestia bug and berry borer are responsible for inferior quality and low yields of coffee beans.

“Both pests feed on the bean tissues, leaving holes that may be entry points for certain fungi that can cause bean rotting or cause mycotoxin poisoning in processed products,” he says.

According to the expert, there are alternatives to Chlorpyrifos usage in pest management. And they include botanical pesticide mixtures such as garlic/pepper and neem extracts; use of biological control agents that include certain species of fungi (Beauveria bassiana) and intercropping coffee with garlic or onion.

Food safety organisations

However, since efficacy of these alternative pest management practices is not always guaranteed, the best approach is to use integrated pest management (IPM), he offers. 

Food safety organisations such as Generation Futures, Pesticide Action Network and Health and Environment Alliance in Europe called for the European Union to ban the use of pesticides with active ingredient.

They classified Chlorpyrifos as developmental neurotic pesticide with increasing evidence showing that serious health condition including disruption of hormonal system and impact on children brain development.

Coupled with other factors, coffee production has been on a decline from an average of 130,000 tonnes in 2000 to around 40,000 tonnes in 2021, according to the Nairobi Coffee exchange.

Coffee is one of the most important cash crops in Kenya with a total production of about 50,000 tonnes annually making it the 25th largest exporter of Arabica coffee in the world.

Latest Kenya National Bureau of Statistics report shows Kenya exported 35,163 metric tonnes (MT) of coffee in the first 11 months of 2021, a decline from 40,980 MT in a similar period in 2020.


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