The Kenyan economy is growing at a steady rate, with an increasing per-capita income and general shift towards becoming a middle-income country.
Much of this growth is due to export-driven agricultural activities, such as flowers and fresh produce for the United Kingdom and European markets. Other small and medium sized industrial activities are also benefiting the economy, as is mining and drilling for extractive chemicals such as sodium carbonate, calcium fluoride, titanium, gold and petroleum.
All of the country’s industries require significant amounts of chemicals. According to the Kenya Statistical Survey (2008), chemicals account for 6 per cent of Kenya’s economy in agriculture, industry and energy. Chemicals, therefore, provide critical input to Kenya’s economy, its people’s quality of life and the environment.
But these chemicals are now imported into the country by traders, not chemists. This has resulted in misuse and accidents that harm people and the environment—news headlines in the country often announce the blatant misuse of chemicals negatively affecting unsuspecting Kenyans, with the most recent example being unsafe levels of mercury in sugar.
Chemicals also influence the quality and quantity output of agricultural and industrial products such as energy, water, transport, pharmaceuticals and consumer products, thus impacting all sectors of development. Although Kenya’s production of toxic chemicals is not high, their misuse and poor management lead to greater negative impacts to human health and the environment. Lack of awareness of the potential risks to users is another challenge.
With the amount of chemicals being traded in Kenya projected to increase, the government has been working to eliminate misuse in the public and private sector and build capacity to safely monitor and regulate the trade and use of chemicals.
The global community has set the goal that by 2020 chemicals should be produced and used in ways that protect human health and the environment.
With the help of the UN Environment’s Special Programme on Institutional Strengthening for Chemicals and Waste Management, various measures will be undertaken to help Kenya reach this goal. A key step will be setting up a Chemicals Unit that can promote cooperation within the government and with the private sector. The unit will be responsible for developing policies and legislation on chemicals management and assist in implementing these policies at national and county government levels. Stakeholders will be encouraged to share data and information with each other about proper chemical management. Additionally, a chemicals database will be established, which will serve as a crucial monitoring tool given that the amount of chemicals entering the country is projected to increase over time. Finally, an industry programme on responsible care will be put in place. The programme will be led by the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, promoting Kenya’s competitiveness in industrial and agricultural projects.
This multifaceted approach will ensure that Kenya’s continued economic growth is managed responsibly, in a way that doesn’t slow progress or damage the health of country.