Kenya’s broken food cycle

Africa Uncensored is an independent media house in Kenya that aims to investigate, expose and empower by telling stories that matter.

Kabugi Mbae.

When Africa Uncensored’s broadcast journalists Kabugi Mbae and Sam Munia realised Kenya’s food system was broken, and that farmers were using cancer-causing pesticides banned elsewhere in the world, they spent 10 months investigating it.

The resulting documentary, Bitter Harvest, was launched on YouTube on World Food Day on October 16 2019, and broadcast the following day on Africa Uncensored’s website.

It revealed that the importation of agrochemicals – including banned or restricted ones – to Kenya had increased by 144% over the previous four years. And much of the farm produce Kenyans consumed was suspected to contain chemicals injurious to their health and the environment.

Their investigation exposed that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the world’s widely used weed and grass killer commercially known as Roundup, which had been linked to many cancer cases in the US, was in nearly 50 products sold in the Kenyan market. The Pest Control Products Board, a government agency responsible for protecting Kenyans against harmful pesticides, was in denial and unwilling to consider withdrawing the banned/restricted products from the market or halting their import.

The journalists decided to follow two farmers – one organic, namely Samuel Wathome, and the other industrial, James Kandie – during a five-month crop season. Wathome grew his crops naturally and intercropped, while Kandie used synthetic fertiliser and pesticides to grow only one type of crop: beans. At the end of the season, Wathome, the organic farmer, took the produce to the market, while Kandie, the industrial farmer, harvested almost nothing after weed outgrew his crop.

Industrial bean farmer James Kandie.

The compilation of this documentary was no easy feat. It included scouring troves of advocacy organisations’ research papers, and annual reports of relevant government agencies and chemical and pesticide manufacturers.

Sam Munia.

The impact? Kenyans were outraged that the fresh produce they ate could be laced with harmful pesticides. Their anger resulted in a petition to parliament to ban and withdraw the pesticides from the market. The documentary also created more awareness about food safety and sustainable farming, which was part of what the journalists had hoped for.

Mbae and Munia were nominated for the Best Documentary in the Kalasha International Film and TV Awards in 2019, and the Environment Reporting Award in the Media Council of Kenya’s Annual Journalism Excellence Awards 2021.

Featured image: Fresh produce farm worker handles cancer-causing pesticide without protective gear.

Watch Bitter Harvest:

Part 1 – The Humble Tomato and the Politics of Pesticides


Part 2 – You Reap What You Sow: Organic Farming vs Industrial Farming


Part 3 – You Are What You Eat: Understanding the Impact of Industrial Chemical Use