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Rich Countries Betray Local Flower Industry

By Wandera Ojanji, The Nation (Nairobi), 4 January 2001

Nairobi - Flower farmers have been thrown into a quandary over the use of a chemical now widely shunned in Europe.

The Montreal Protocol allows the use of methyl bromide until 2015. But despite a 10-year grace period, lobbyists in the West are now campigning for a boycott of crops grown with the chemical.

Many anti-methyl bromide advocacy and lobby groups in the Netherlands and Europe in general are asking supermarkets and other retail outlets to label products that were produced without methyl bromide.

This, they hope, will enable consumers and the market to make informed choices. In the UK, the Food Commission, a consumer advocacy group, has asked supermarkets to label fruits and other produce "Grown without use of methyl bromide."

The mounting pressure means that Kenyan flower farmers have to switch to alternatives immediately. Continued use of methyl bromide would simply mean they lose their export market.

The Netherlands, the largest and possibly the most important market for Kenyan flowers has already phased-out methyl bromide in flower production. Kenya is currently the second largest supplier of flowers to the Dutch Auction.

No single, equally effective and cost effective alternative to methyl bromide has been identified.

According to Mr. Mark Okado, the national co-ordinator, Methyl Bromide Alternatives Project, there is no single chemical or approach that can wholly or outrightly replace methyl bromide, especially for soil fumigation.

Metham Sodium (MITC), Dazomet and a combination of the two with Promot (Trichoderma) are the only products that have shown promising results as alternatives to methyl bromide, although their effectiveness is much lower, according to the project team.

Although, MITC and Dazomet can effectively control pests like nematodes especially the Pontylencheus and Melodogyne spp. and Fusarium oxysporum, re- infection occurs immediately the field is sterilised. Unlike methyl bromide, the residual effects of these chemicals are very short.

Besides being expensive, Methan Sodium,, is not easy to apply or incorporate into the soil for fumigation purposes. Basamid, the only commercial alternative being widely applied in the country, is labour intensive and difficult to incorporate. The fumigant gases move up and will only fumigate soils above area of replacement. The cost of fumigation is twice that of methyl bromide.

Methyl bromide is blamed for destruction of the ozone layer. Experts estimate that the fumigant is 50 times more destructive to the ozone layer than other ozone depleting substances, especially the chloroflorocarbons.

The chemical also has an inherent and broad-spectrum toxicity to human and environmental health.

The grace period for the phase-out as specified in the Montreal Protocol was necessary for the transfer of technology to the developing countries, according to Dr David Okioga, co-ordinator of the National Ozone Unit.

Recent revelations that the damage to the ozone layer has reached record levels have added more impetus to the campaign to phase-out the chemical.

Last September, satellite measurements revealed that the stratospheric ozone "hole" over the Antarctic had reached a record 28.3 million square kilometres (some one million sq. km more than the previous record, in 1998).

Earlier last year, ozone depletion over northern latitudes also reached record levels, leading to predictions of a second ozone hole over the Arctic; such an event would expose many millions of people to dangerous doses of ultraviolet-B radiation, according to experts.

"While enormous progress has been made over the past decade in phasing out ozone-destroying chemicals, the health of the ozone layer remains critical," said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, under whose auspices the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer was adopted.

He was speaking during the high level meeting of the world's governments in Burkina Faso from December 11-14, 2000 to ensure the phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other chemicals under the Montreal Protocol is adhered to.

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