Agrochemicals Association of Kenya

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Ms. Evelyn Lusenaka, Chief Executive Officer , AAK.
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On a firm mission to facilitate responsible management of pest control solutions for improved agricultural production, public health and environmental protection.

By Catherine Kuria

Established in 1958, the Agrochemicals Association of Kenya (AAK) is the umbrella
organization for manufacturers, formulators, repackers, importers, consultants, distributors,
farmers and users of pest control products (pesticides) in Kenya. AAK is also known as CropLife Kenya by virtue of being a national representative of the International Agrochemical Industry represented worldwide by CropLife International. AAK’s niche is in pest control stewardship.

It is the representative of the pesticide industry in Kenya. The organization contributes to improvements in pest control products’ quality, responsible use and disposal.Ms. Evelyn Lusenaka is the Chief Executive Officer of AAK. With fifteen years experience in the industry, she has been the CEO of AAK for the past 2 years. Her first degree was in horticulture. She then did masters in project planning management and later proceeded to the University of
Cape Town and undertook a course in risk management. She is a certified pesticide
risk manager.

Ms. Lusenaka started her journey in the industry by working for an agrochemical company. She was involved in sales and marketing for about three years. However, due to her lack of passion for the job, she quit and went ahead to become a training manager for AAK. Her mandate was to lead in the training of responsible use of pesticide. She says: “I was working together with the government extension officers, training farmers and stockists on how to
handle pesticides.” In addition to that, she was involved in other stewardship activities.

She set up a poisoning information centre for the Industry at Kenyatta National Hospital which is the only recognized World Health Organization (WHO) poison centre in the whole of East Africa. It has a toll free line which is available in all levels and therefore when one calls, he or she gets immediate assistance. She also started an Empty Pesticide Container (EPC) management project and set up collection centres across the country.

“I left sales because even though it was interesting, it had many challenges,” she says adding that the profession offered her opportunity to network, travel and meet new people. On top of that, Ms. Lusenaka was appointed as the regional trainer for Crop Life Africa Middle East, where she was covering the East and South of Africa regions. This enabled her to travel to different countries hence providing much needed exposure. Because of the commendable work she did, she rose through the ranks to become the manager in charge of stewardship for Kenya. Later, she rose in her job and became the deputy CEO, and finally the CEO.

For the two years that she has been CEO, she has really managed to transform the industry. “When I came in, my aim was to ensure that I added value to the members by creating a favourable environment for them to do business,” she says. “Advocacy and lobbying were my main targets,” she adds.

Responsibilities of AAK
One of the mandates of AAK is product stewardship which is the life cycle approach to managing pesticides. To that end, it ensures that various pesticides in the market are used in the correct way. The association has a series of projects and activities that it funds and supports. It also maximizes on the usage of various agrochemicals in the market, while minimizing the risks that are associated with the same. Its other responsibility is to create a favourable environment for its members to conduct business. This is done through
obbying on their behalf and pushing for policies that favour the industry. AAK works
closely with the industry’s regulator; Pest Control Products Board (PCK) in addressing
various issues affecting its members.

Stumbling blocks
Despite thriving over the years since it was established, AAK grapples with a number of challenges. The most recent is the 16% Value-Added Tax (VAT) imposed on pesticide products. Following the Finance Act amendment bill that was enacted in parliament this year,pesticides and farming inputs were zero rated instead of being exempted from VAT.This is despite the fact that AAK had lobbied the parliamentary committees for agriculture and finance respectively not to zero rate the two products before the bill was enacted. Ms. Lusenaka asserts: “We urged the two committees to take into consideration that 80% of our population relies on agriculture and the sector’s growth should therefore be supported by lowering its tax burden.”The association also made a submission to the Clerk of the National Assembly on the same. By the same token, it made submissions to the Ministry of Agriculture.

However, going by the gazette notice in August 7th, pesticides were neither in the list of the zero rated nor VAT tax exempt items. On the other hand, farming inputs continued being zero rated while the end products were subjected to 16% VAT. AAK had also lobbied for a low tax burden for its members under the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA). Nevertheless, once a law has been accented to, no change can be made until a period of six months is over. Recently, the organization unsuccessfully raised that issue with the Ministry of Agriculture so that the National Treasury could act on it. Consequently, it has presented its case to the Constitutional Court which has in turn served the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), the National Treasury and the Speaker of the National Assembly.

The issue of illegal pesticides is also ailing the sector. With the subjection of 16% VAT on pesticides, the industry might experience an upsurge of illegal products. You find that pesticides sold in our neighbouring countries – Uganda and Tanzania – are much cheaper. Farmers end up smuggling these pesticides in the country not knowing that they are posing a risk to their crops. Pesticides approved in a certain country are done so after meeting the climatic conditions of that area. Therefore, a pesticide approved for use in Uganda might not meet the Kenyan standards because the climatic conditions in the two countries are different. Illegal infiltration in the market is also a challenge to local manufacturers.

The other concern is the problem of the emerging pests. Pests and diseases contribute from 40% to over 100% of crop loss. In as much as the industry is trying to produce solutions to this problem, you find that it cannot keep abreast and have these products available as they come in. AAK falls under a bigger umbrella called CropLife International which is the umbrella organization for the manufacturers of pesticides. It has a strong advocacy team which lobbies globally on behalf of its members. “The global trends in the pesticide industry are prone to rapid changes. There is the push for safer molecules, food safety issues and a push to revisit the portfolio of products that we are offering,” she expresses.

Her drive
Ms. Lusenaka loves creating new things and that is what keeps her going in the industry. She takes each day as a new challenge. AAK is among many associations in the country serving the agricultural sector. Each day, she has her table full of different things that come in. The fact that she is able to provide solutions is what drives her. She hilariously remarks that it’s good that she can knock on big doors and have an audience. Each day is a learning opportunity for her. She is a prolific writer who has mastered the skill from writing numerous reports to various offices.

She says: “In my position, I cannot afford to offend anybody so if I need help in a certain area, I request for it. I cannot do it alone but with the right people  guiding me and lending a hand when I’m stuck, I’m able to know what to say when I
knock on doors.” She is a fitness freak who works out five days a week. She also does a lot of community work for schools and churches back in her rural home. Together with her friends, she has established a group of giving back to the community. Every month they go to schools and churches, identify the needs of the people and help them in various ways. She also does mentoring for young people in schools and strives to be a role model for kids from her community.

Road ahead for AAK
The association is growing and the industry is quite dynamic. There are new entrants
in the market, others are leaving and multinationals are merging. Its members serve a niche market dealing with pest control products. Therefore, there are people who they need to compliment and work in synergy with. AAK is looking at all the other private sector players in agriculture.

Ms. Lusenaka says that she would want to see AAK come together with other private sector players and create a strong lobby group that can lead and have a say in the government. For example with the issue of inputs, if they had a strong lobby group
together as the agriculture private sector players, they would be far right now. “When we look at it, I can confidently tell you there is no stronger association than AAK in all these agricultural associations. We are strong, our existence is felt but we need to go further by pushing ourselves and be a force to reckon with in this country,” she declares.

Advice
She says that women should not always wait to be given leadership positions or favoured because of their gender. On the contrary, they should fight for whatever they want and not think that they have an edge because they are women. She happens to be in an industry that is male dominated. There is only one woman in the AAK boardroom. They really had to look for a senior woman in the industry to fit in because women have shunned this industry. “As women, we should compete fairly for various positions with men ; nowadays there is no advantage a girl has over a boy because we are all provided with the same
resources,” she concludes.

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