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About bankelele

Writing on banking, finance and investments in East Africa. Email bankelele_at_hotmail.com, Instagram: Bankelele, Twitter: @Bankelele.

Toxic Business: Banned in the European Union, poisoning Kenya

Agriculture is one of Kenya’s key income earners contributing 24% of GDP and employing 75% of the population either directly or indirectly. As a result, the demand for pesticides is high and increasing with the need to increase agricultural production to keep up with population increase. Imported chemical pesticides in the market account for 87% and has more than doubled in four years from 6,400 tonnes to 15,600 tonnes in 2018, yet there are few safeguards to control application.

Every year fresh produce from Kenya is rejected by the European market when it is found to have harmful levels of chemical residue. When returned it finds its way to local fresh produce markets and consumed by unsuspecting Kenyans. The result is a huge healthcare burden on households as more people, especially children, fall ill.

A report by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) showed that 46% of the fresh vegetables sold in Kenyan fresh produce markets have high levels of pesticides with harmful active ingredients, with Kale (94%) having the highest level of pesticides and herbicides that are harmful to human and animal health.

A small-scale farmer Joseph, who has adequate training in the handling of pesticides, prepares to spray his crops by mixing the chemical with water in a backpack sprayer pump, using his bare hands and no protective mask or clothing, he gives the pump a firm shake to mix the ingredients in it and then proceeds to splash water on the exterior of the sprayer pack to rinse off the chemical overspill with his hands. The small quarter acre, gently-sloping vegetable garden surrounds his family’s house, which further exposes his family to harmful chemicals. He is not aware of the danger of handling these pesticides, only focusing on their efficacy in pest control.

At the local roadside Market, Daniel Maingi of Kenya Food Rights Alliance purchases green capsicum and spinach to take for testing at the University of Nairobi’s Pharmacology & Toxicology Laboratory at the Department of Public Health, where Professor Mbaria confirms harmful levels of chemicals containing toxic active ingredients on the sample vegetables.

The “Pesticides In Kenya: Why our health, environment and food security is at stake” report by Route To Food Initiative (RTFI), makes a distinction between the toxicity of the active ingredient and the toxicity of the chemical product. In the European market, the manufacturer of a chemical product first registers the active ingredient, which is then tested and must be identified by name on the product label.

Of the “247 active ingredients registered in Kenya, 150 are approved in Europe, 11 are not listed in the European Database and 78 have been withdrawn from the European market or are heavily restricted in use due to potential chronic health effects, environmental persistence, and high toxicity to wildlife.”

In a case of double morality standards, these chemicals are available to Kenyan farmers threatening the health of both citizens and the environment by contaminating the soil and water. Most of these pesticides take years to degrade and therefore persist in the environment for many years and many are acutely toxic causing severe long-term toxic effects, disrupting the human endocrine system, harming wildlife and other non-target organisms that are crucial to the ecology.

The Pesticide Control Products Board (PCPB) set up by the Government of Kenya under the Pest Control Products Act of 1982 regulates the importation, manufacture, distribution and exportation of pest control products. PCPB has registered 247 active ingredients in 699 horticultural chemical products, with more products registered than active ingredients as one active ingredient can be by several companies. Of these, a quarter are banned in Europe and they include big brand names such as Syngenta, Bayer and BASF.

In Kenya, chemical companies host robust carnival-like events where smallholder farmers are bussed in from across the country and paid a stipend to attend. Throughout the festival, no mention is made to farmers about safe handling or protective clothing when mixing the chemicals for application on the crops. The farmers appear to completely trust the chemical companies to have their best interests at heart and do not ask any questions. At these marketing events, several chemicals are presented as solving multiple problems and are touted as the best in the market.

Glyphosate-based agrichemicals have received an enormous pushback globally for its carcinogenic properties. However, there are other harmful ingredients that should attract much more attention in use in Kenya, but banned in the European Union. Carcinogenic active ingredients include Chlorothalonil, Clodinafop, Oxyfluorfen and Pymetrozine. Mutagenic active ingredients include Cabendazim, Dichlorrvos and Trichlorfon. Endocrine disruptor pesticide active ingredients include Acephate, Carbofuran, Deltamethrin, Omethoate and Thiacloprid. Active ingredients that hamper development and are harmful to reproductive health include Abamectin, Carbendazim, Carbofuran, Gamma-cyhalothrin, Oxydemeton-methyla and Thiacloprid. Neurotoxic active ingredients include Abamectin, Acephate, Dichlorvos, Glufosinate-ammonium, Omethoate, Permethrin and Thiacloprid.

Before the advent of chemical herbicides, farmers would weed their farms by hand and using hand hoes, this has been increasingly replaced by pesticides even for the smallholder farms under five acres. Mono-cropping or monoculture where one crop is planted year in year out, depleting the soil of nutrients and necessitating the increased use of fertilizers to improve yields with each subsequent year, also encourages the spread of crop pests which require chemicals to treat. Another area that receives little focus is post-harvest storage pesticides. If fertilizers are subsidized, why not include hermetic storage technology (HST) storage bags that provide moisture and insect controls, without pesticides, in this policy?

If we continue to consume chemicals, consciously or subconsciously through the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe, then the next generation we produce will be of a lesser quality than ourselves, as will subsequent generations.

A guest post by Velma Kiome 

BA 2119: The Flight of the Future exhibition

A guest post by Elsie Kibue-Ngare.

I was fortunate enough to be invited/gifted a ticket to an interactive exhibition by British Airways in collaboration with students from the Royal College of Art (RCA) at the Saatchi Gallery as they showcased the future of flying in the next 100 years.

This year, British Airways is celebrating its 100th Anniversary as being part of a predecessor company AT&T (Air Transport & Travel Ltd) and this exhibition is a celebration of that long history by looking at aviation through history via FLY, an interactive, multisensory, virtual reality experience that turns you into a time traveller from being a bird, into Leonardo Da Vinci’s studio in Florence all the way to 100 years into the future to what aviation might look like with an aircraft that is guided to land by sight as one of the possibilities of air travel.

Together with FLY, eight other concepts were showcased at the exhibition. These included:

  • AVII (AVY), which I particularly liked as a concept to improve the experience of travellers using Artifical Intelligence (AI) in collaboration with cabin crew. The idea is to submit your needs as you book your flight, for example, if you have particular dietary needs and this information is fed back to the cabin crew who in return provide personalised service throughout your flight without even you asking.
  • Another concept, TASTENATION, uses data collected from DNA and body health to 3D print food for a new multi-sensory in-flight dining experience. This idea does away with food waste as meals are prepared from scratch onto edible cutlery and plates. Yet at the same time provide the necessary nutrients whilst on the air as it prepares the body to adjust to the cuisine of the traveller’s destination.
  • In line with reducing waste, THE FUTURE OF LUGGAGE is another concept that can also be realised. The vision where travellers would travel without any luggage as they will have to upload their clothes onto a digital wardrobe together with their measurements and depending on the weather, duration of their stay, etc. and the idea that you would arrive at your destination and find a set of clothes waiting for you at the airport lounge at your destination is pretty awesome. Clothes will be made from recycled materials that at the end of your trip, you drop them off at the airport where they are recycled.

There was so much to detailing to see at this exhibition from personalised wearable seats called AIRWEAR, to flying green with AERIUM, where the air we breathe and the water that we drink whilst flying is generated through bioavionics systems integrated as part of the plane. CURIO, a hypersonic modular aircraft with zero emissions and weird seating is one I did not get. And so did AER, a shape-changing smart luggage transportation concept.

Of the concepts, I saw at the exhibition, AVII(AVY), AERIUM, TASTENATION and THE FUTURE OF LUGGAGE looked like the ones that are likely to happen in the near future leading up to 2119 with the other concepts looking very unlikely, but I could be wrong and years beyond 2119, these other concepts could be a reality for many.

All in all, it was amazing to see how history and the advancement of technology inform us of the ideas and innovations of what is yet to come.

How can the US engage in Africa, and go around China?

.. Extracts from “Deconstructing the Dragon: China’s Commercial Expansion in Africa,” a recent report by Aubrey Hruby that postulates what the United States can do to reposition its influence in Africa whose governments have received extensive assistance from China, mainly in terms of infrastructure projects.

The looks at the nature of infrastructure deals that have come to be dominated by China state-owned enterprises through a combination of feasibility studies, negotiations financing through Chinese loans, and eventually mobilization to start construction. Quick-decision making is a factor and McKinsey found that over half of investment decisions for Chinese construction and real estate companies were made in under a month.

The US can counter to these mainly be through US government to African business initiatives, while contracts with China’s “government to government programs.

Recommendations include:

  • Niche infrastructure that fall within the US competitive advantage like renewable energy, oil exploration and urban/smarter city solutions. However on the last one, the report points out that China has made significant inroads in media, telecommunications and security services.
  • Push for anti-corruption agenda, as this will level the playing field for US companies. This can be through supporting African government efforts to investigate and prosecute corruption cases.
  • Generate a pipeline of projects, data, and trade links to assist US businesses to invest in Africa. This can be through sponsoring competitions and investor trips.
  • Support the creativity and education sectors. There is an opportunity in the entertainment spaces as recent deals involving Netflix, Mavin Records and the National Basketball Association have shown. Also a quarter of African children (66 million) could be studying in private schools by 2021.
  • US financial institutions can work towards providing working capital, which remains a great challenge for individuals and small businesses in Africa.

It also notes that more US intuitional investors have opened up to putting more funding to African venture. These include the New York State Common Retirement Fund, which has allocated $6 billion to investments in Africa and the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund that have invested in two African private equity funds.

EDIT: A story in the Africa Report shows how a new US Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which combines the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Credit Authority of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) is part of the broader economic and trade battle led by the USA against China.  

The new organization has more latitude than its predecessors in that, it will be able to make equity investment in private firms (previously they were restricted to debt) and a restriction that OPIC could only support projects with “a significant link with the American private sector” has been removed.

Acorn Green Bond for Student Accommodation in Nairobi

This week saw the approval of the first-ever green bond in Kenya, issued by Acorn Holdings to fund student accommodation projects around Nairobi.

Acorn is one of the largest developers in Kenya, having delivered over 50 projects worth $550 million in the last decade. These include the local headquarters for Coca Cola, Equity Bank and Deloitte, and the UAP Tower, which is currently the tallest occupied building in Nairobi. They plan to raise up to Kshs 5 billion ($50 million) investors through a bond that has a bullet maturity in five years and which pays 12.25% interest. The green bond issue is partially guaranteed by GuarantCo up to a maximum of $30 million.

Acorn has ventured into purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA), under two brands, Qwetu and Qejani. They are developing projects close to universities around Nairobi, which target students at campuses of USIU, University of Nairobi, Daystar, KCA and Riara universities.

This is to address the current situation where the increasing number of students at universities live in sub-standard housing, without amenities, in poor condition or which are considered unsafe. These are mostly in older building not designed for students such as former domestic-staff quarters. Yet students require reliability water & electricity, Wi-Fi, security, furnishings etc. and which ensure security and privacy.

Qejani is a high-rise, mass-market, offering which students can rent for between Kshs 7,500 -12,500 ($125) per month for single, double or quadruple room accommodations, while Qwetu is their premium brand.  The funding will go towards completing student accommodation facilities including Qwetu USIU Road 3 & Road 4, Sirona Phase 1 & 2, Bogani East Road Qwetu, Bogani East Road Qejani, and Nairobi West Qwetu.

The green bond offer, which is restricted to sophisticated investors, opened on 16 August and closes on 27 September 2019. Allotments will be done on 30 September 2019, with the minimum level of subscription set at 40% for it to be deemed a success.

Other aspects of the bond issue:

  • It is restricted to sophisticated (institutional) investors.
  • Opened on 16 August and closes on 27 September 2019. Allotments will be done on 30 September 2019.
  • The minimum level of subscription is set at 40% for it to be deemed a success.
  • Stanbic Kenya is the issuing and paying agent for the green bonds, and they will confirm that funds will not be used for more than 65% of the project costs with Acorn contributing the other 35%. 
  • Helios Partners are investors in Acorn.
  • GuarantCo is sponsored by the governments of the UK, Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia and Sweden and by FMO, the Dutch development bank.
  • Moody’s Investors Service has assigned a provisional B1 to the Acorn bond.
  • The issue will be certified as a green bond given that Acorn’s projects are constructed in accordance with the International Finance Corporation – IFC’s EDGE (“excellence in design for greater efficiencies”) requirements for sustainable buildings and certified by the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) “.. they aim to steer construction in rapidly urbanizing economies onto a more low-carbon path. Certification is based on benefits generated from providing solutions in construction and operation: energy, water, and materials.” 
  • The green bonds program is endorsed by the Central Bank of Kenya, the Capital Market Authority and the National Treasury.

Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) 2019 finale set for Accra

The Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) series for 2019, will conclude with an “Africa Business Heroes” televised gala in Accra, Ghana in November where ten finalist entrepreneurs will pitch Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Strive Masiyiwa and other judges.

The overall Netpreneur winner will get a grant prize of $250,000, the second place one receives  $150,000, with $100,000 to the third place one. These are among the largest financial prizes offered to African entrepreneurs and the other finalists will also receive financial grants.

Applications for this year’s ANPI opened on March 27 and over 10,000 entries were received from entrepreneur applicants. These were narrowed down by different evaluators through a vetting process and this week twenty finalists, drawn from across Africa, are doing interviews with,  a panel of expert judges at the Nailab in Nairobi. Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Fatoumata Ba, Fred Swaniker, Hasan Haider, Marième Diop, Peter Orth, and René Parker form the semi-finalist judging panel for this year’s ANPI. 

This all comes two years after Jack Ma’s first visit to Africa as a UN special advisor for youth entrepreneurship and small business. Dr Mukhisa Kituyi suggested that he visits Kenya as one of the countries he toured and he became inspired by a team of entrepreneurs he met at the Nailab. He then decided to support African entrepreneurs through his Jack Ma Foundation.

This is the Foundation’s first project outside of China the Prize has a mission to shine a spotlight on African entrepreneurs to be leaders of their societies in the future. It is especially focused on traditional, informal and agricultural industries and sectors, and encourages women to participate. This is a deviation from other sectors like digital, fintech, and mobile  that have attracted a lot of attention and funding on the continent. ANPI hopes to find and support 100 entrepreneurs over the next decade to be leaders across Africa.  

Through the program, they offer training at the Alibaba headquarters in Hangzhou, China, free of charge and several entrepreneurs, through the Nailab, have made that trip there. The ANPI competition remains to open to entrepreneurs in all 54 African countries, including Northern African and Western (Francophone regions). Jack Ma is expected to continue his philanthropic efforts, through the foundation, even after he steps down from being Alibaba’s Executive Chairman in October 2019.