In July, the government moved to introduce a 16 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) on agricultural pest control products. This decision was very much opposed by the Agrochemical Association of Kenya (AAK) and other stakeholders. They argue that the high tax on pesticides will increase the cost of pesticides, which will be passed to farmers thereby increasing the production cost hence the food prices go up as well. Are we facing a threat in food security or is it actually a chance to promote food security and food safety?
Pesticides use, one of the hottest topics nowadays when it comes to human and environmental health, is becoming a serious concern to consumers in Kenya. This is because of the harmful effects they have on our health and our environment. This links to the fact that another important concern for consumers today, besides food security, is food safety. Analysing the pesticide use data from a study by Macharia et al. (2009) done in Kenya revealed that 32 per cent of the pesticides applied on various crops are actually banned in Europe, either because they show high toxicity towards human and environmental health or they stay very long in the environment. This is not acceptable.
Policy measures are required in order to reduce the risks and negative external effects associated with the use of pesticides in farms, resulting in more sustainable agricultural systems. The ‘Sustainable Use of pesticide Directive’ in Europe aims to reduce the pesticide use and environmental and human health risk originating from pesticide use by up to 40 per cent . Adopting measures like the promotion of Integrated Pest Management or organic farming, recording pesticide use data and the implementation of pesticide taxes are amongst important tools in the toolkit of policy-makers. It is worth noting that to deal with such challenges, environmental taxes on pesticides are already implemented in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and France. Pesticide taxes could foster the agro-ecological transition to integrated pest management practices via reducing pesticide use and substituting chemical inputs for biological and mechanical ones.
The aim is to encourage farmers to use less toxic pesticides by making them cheaper than the toxic ones. How can this be achieved? Very easy, by putting different environmental taxes on to the pesticides according to their toxicity to the environment and human health and according to their mobility in the environment. This way one can mobilize fiscal revenues while mitigating the negative effects associated with pesticide application and encourage a shift towards environmentally friendly design systems. 
We need to understand pesticide risk so as to help minimize the use. Pesticides can differ in their risk towards environment and health based on their mobility (according to their solubility and persistence) in the environment and based on the toxicity towards environment (aquatic life, bees, earthworms) and human health (effect on cancer, reproduction, neurotoxicity and developmental effects). The properties of a chemical can be used to prioritize pesticides in high risk, medium risk and low-risk pesticides. On this basis, one can categorize the tax as well and divide the tax amount amongst low-risk pesticides with low or almost no additional tax and high-risk pesticides with a high additional tax. Carbofuran, abamectin and azoxystrobin, active ingredients in the products Furadan, Dynamic, Ortiva would receive higher taxes based on the toxicity towards the environment and human health than cymoxanil and tebuconazole, active ingredients in the products Milraz and Folicur.
- Incorporate social and environmental costs (very often only the benefit of pesticide use is considered whereas the costs to human and environmental especially of using toxic pesticides are neglected).
- Lead to the adoption of sustainable farming technologies such as organic farming, permaculture and moves toward the achievement of Kenya’s sustainable development goals.
- Generate revenue that could be used to mitigate the environmental impacts of pesticides.
- A decrease in the use of pesticides was only recorded in Scandinavian countries, where the tax level was higher and accompanied by complementary policies encouraging sustainable agriculture.
- The incentive may be reduced through manufacturers absorbing some of the intended price increase so as to maintain sales.
The policy instrument should consider:
- Homogeneity: the focus on the additional financial burdens among farmers and their distribution. For example, fruit and vegetable growers, as well as potato growers, generally need to apply more pesticides than maize growers or grassland farmers and will, therefore, be taxed higher.
- Feasibility and maintainability, together with enforceability and maintainability, consider possibilities of control and fraud.
- Effectiveness: the ability of a political instrument to achieve its desired objective.
- Efficiency: the costs of the instrument in relation to its objective achievement.
- Economic consequences of farmers and acceptability by farmers
What should be done?
The government should provide incentives to agricultural producers to adopt new technologies that involve less use of pesticides. Pesticide registration needs to be applied in local situations (with local species to be tested and local weather situations) before granting registration and sale. Very toxic pesticides like carbendazim e.g. which are not registered in Europe anymore should also not get any granting in this country. Very often pesticides only pass the registration process in Europe by including mitigation measures assuming to reduce the concentration in the environment. These mitigation measures should be presented to the farmers very clearly on the bottle, which is currently not the case. If the mitigation measures can be implemented e.g. 25m buffer zone as it is actually recommended for Brigade this pesticide should not be registered and less problematic pesticides should be promoted.
Researchers need to collect scientific information on pesticides and related risk assessments on environmental and human health effects to inform the design of the taxes. Preliminary results from the authors show an efficient methodology for prioritizing pesticides based on their properties and use.
Policy makers need better evidence on how changes in pesticide regulation would affect pesticide reduction and farm incomes too. A smart policy package – combining Integrated Pest Management, organic farming and a progressive environmental tax system might be an effective way towards sustainable agriculture.
Farmers have to deal with already enough challenges facing food production including limited market access, inefficient price values for the crop, inefficient storage facilities, limited water access and they should not deal with higher pesticide prices as well. Instead, they should be rewarded using less toxic pesticides by paying less for them and saving money.