Enabling vegetable business development in East Africa
Consuming vegetables as part of a daily diet is extremely beneficial to the health and wellbeing of individuals. A healthy diet can help prevent non-communicable diseases. However, in sub-Saharan Africa, vegetable consumption is the lowest of any region in the world. Problems within the vegetable supply and value chain, including pests and the use of harmful pesticides, are causing losses and high levels of residues. CABI is working with the ‘Veggies 4 Planet & People’ project to help increase healthy vegetable production and consumption in Kenya and Ethiopia.
So, what’s the problem
A healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables provides a source of vitamins and minerals needed to maintain the overall health of people but also prevents health problems and common non-communicable diseases such as obesity, heart disease and cancers.
But, in sub-Saharan Africa, vegetable consumption is very low. One of the lowest of any region in the world.
Some factors that contribute to the low intake include inadequate levels of production, limited marketing opportunities, poor access to inputs (such as seeds, soil, and fertilizers), and limited knowledge of soil and plant health management.
Crop pests are particularly responsible for causing significant pre and post-harvest losses. To control pests, farmers often rely on conventional synthetic pesticides.
Empirical evidence from Kenya and Ethiopia shows the use of harmful pesticides that pose a risk to humans and the environment with limited application of mitigation measures.
Past studies on pesticide residues on tomatoes, onions, and Traditional African Vegetables (TAV) found evidence of residues of pesticides that are not registered for use in Kenya. They also showed exceedances of the maximum residue level (MRL) in both domestic and export crops (PlantwisePlus study of pesticide residues in domestic and exported food crops in Kenya, 2022, unpublished).
Furthermore, measurements of pesticide residues on crops and feedback from key informants indicate that tomato, leafy vegetables, onion and fruits (such as mango, tree tomato and watermelon) are among the crops causing the greatest concern regarding exceedances of pesticide residues. For example, acephate residues on tomato have been observed to exceed MRLs by 700%.
To help improve livelihoods, there is a need to increase the production of healthier and safer vegetables.
What is this project doing?
CABI is working on the World Vegetable Center-led project ‘Veggies 4 Planet and Planet’ (V4P&P) which aims to create employment and increase incomes, particularly for women and youth in Ethiopia and Kenya, and to improve environmental and human health through safe production of vegetables.
The V4P&P project places special emphasis on regenerative agricultural technologies through the application of crop production practices such as composting, green manures, crop rotation, botanicals and beneficial microbes to nourish the soil and reduce or eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
The project seeks to reduce risks from pesticides by reducing reliance on chemical pesticides and ensuring that only low-risk pesticides that are compatible with regenerative agriculture are selected and used responsibly.
The use of biopesticides and natural pesticides is one of the key performance indicators for the regenerative agriculture component of the V4P&P project.
CABI’s role will be to provide expert advice and insights into pest and disease management. CABI will gather information from its pest distribution databases (including the Plantwise plant clinic network data), V4P&P project reports, experiences from the field in V4P&P and other sources in order to:
- Identify and provide insight on pest problems project farmers will likely face
- Accumulate evidence on specific pest management solutions (or combinations) smallholder farmers in Kenya and Ethiopia use to manage pest problems on priority vegetables for V4P&P, including pesticides commonly used and associated hazards
- Recommend regenerative approaches and the steps needed to introduce further low-risk solutions that are not yet available in Kenya and Ethiopia
Desk reviews to consolidate and document information from CABI’s pest distribution databases and other sources on vegetable pest problems are ongoing, as is an assessment of farmer practices in Kenya and Ethiopia. The development of study tools and planning for field activities are underway.
Information gathered from the various sources will be analyzed and used to draw insights into the major pest problems on vegetables, recommend management practices that are compatible with regenerative agriculture, and outline the steps needed to introduce the use of low-risk solutions that are not yet available in the project countries.
Senior Scientist, SPS
Canary Bird, 673 Limuru Road, Nairobi, Kenya