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BusinessAuthorities push flower farms for stricter pest control to safeguard critical European...

Authorities push flower farms for stricter pest control to safeguard critical European market

  • “If we continue business as usual, the EU will ban our flowers.”

The authorities have issued stern notices to flower farms to notch up mechanisms for controlling a species of moth posing a serious risk to the country’s half-billion dollar a year flower export industry.

The development comes on the heels of a 153-page report published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) last month, which depicted concerns over the export of flowers to Europe from Ethiopia and Kenya.

The report cites the incidence of false codling moth (FCM) infestations in Ethiopia’s flower shipments has been on the rise since 2018.

The moth is thought to be native to Sub-Saharan Africa, but its detrimental effects are best observed in temperate climates such as those in Europe, where the pest poses a risk to more than 100 different crops. Citrus fruit crops such as those grown extensively in Spain, France, and Italy are particularly vulnerable to the moth.

The EU recently increased the inspection threshold for flowers being shipped in from Ethiopia or Kenya to 25 percent of shipments, up from the previous five percent. The new threshold is to be implemented beginning May this year.

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Ethiopian authorities have warned flower farms that failure to control the pest could lead to an outright ban on exports to the EU. 

“This is very concerning because each time European experts inspect our consignments, the cost is covered by the exporting country. The flower exporter or farmer covers the cost,” observes Wondale Habtamu, deputy director of the Ethiopian Agricultural Authority (EAA) and a representative of the UN International Plant Protection Convention in Ethiopia.

“If we don’t meet the requirements immediately, the EU will raise the inspection threshold to 100 percent,” warns Wondale. “This would be very expensive, and if we fail at that, the EU will proceed to ban Ethiopian flowers.”

Wondale notes the EU has been more lax on enforcing rules in Ethiopia and Kenya, but that could soon change.

“The EU has placed a 100 percent inspection [threshold] on other countries like Rwanda, Uganda, and South Africa. For now, the EU is keen on Ethiopia and Kenya,” he told The Reporter.

Officials claim measures being taken to root out moth infestations are behind the relatively lax rules for Ethiopian flower exporters.

The EU has rejected no less than 43 moth-infested Ethiopian flower consignments destined for European markets between 2018 and 2023. Only a single consignment was intercepted in 2019, followed by 10 in 2021, and a record 23 in 2023.

Officials say there have been seven interceptions so far this financial year, with zero rejections through the month of January.

Authorities push flower farms for stricter pest control to safeguard critical European market | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

Official figures put flower export revenues at more than half a billion dollars a year, although some experts, including at the Ministry of Agriculture, allege the numbers are over-reported. Still, flowers maintain their place as the second-largest source of forex, next to coffee.

Nearly 80 percent of all of Ethiopia’s flower exports are destined for the EU, while the US, Japan, Russia, and others account for the remainder. More than 60 percent of all flowers shipped to the EU from Ethiopia go to the flower auction market in the Netherlands.

There are no less than 50 firms engaged in growing flowers for export in Ethiopia, while seven of these are responsible for close to two-thirds of total exports. All seven are based in the vicinity of Ziway (Batu), 170 kilometers south of the capital. 

“All FCM cases intercepted by Europe indicate the flowers in question were sourced from Ziway. This is because Ziway is hotter, but because of these farms in Ziway, the whole flower industry will be affected. If FCM is found in even one consignment, the EU takes measures on Ethiopia on a country-wide level,” said Deriba Kuma (Amb.), director-general of the Environmental Authority.

The heightened suspicions from Europe led Ethiopian officials on a recent trip to Brussels for discussions with EU representatives. The authorities also convened a meeting with horticultural producers and exporters in Addis Ababa this week.

Officials have cautioned flower farms and exporters to implement integrated pest management (IPM) systems to manage the moth problem.

This includes spraying flowers with chemicals and insecticides, deploying personnel to handpick the pests from the plants, and utilizing what are known as pheromone traps to lure and neutralize the pests. Biological control methods (using other organisms to control pest populations) are on the table.

The authorities have also pushed for stricter auditing and inspections at both farm and consignment levels, including at Bole International Airport.

“Whenever FCM is intercepted, the EU raises the inspection rates on that country. Our farmers must work hard to prevent the pest from entering the greenhouse farms. Then the exporters must prevent it from reaching containerization areas. We are introducing legislation and standards for flower farm auditing for plant health, and also for consignments. External audits, post and pre-inspections, and a system-based approach are also key,” said Deriba.

He told The Reporter his office is working to connect flower farms to the central bank and the ministries of Finance and Agriculture to help them secure the forex they need to import the chemicals and equipment needed to fight FCM.

“But some farms don’t want to spend money on controlling FCM,” said Deriba.

Experts have warned flower farms there is no way around the moth problem.

“It is impossible to eradicate FCM because it is indigenous to Ethiopia. Ethiopian farmers must implement the IPM. This needs a lot of expertise and investment from the flower farmers and exporters,” said Fikre Markos, an EEA advisor who presented a study on the moth during the stakeholder meeting this week.

“The EU has provided a window for improvements in our system. Unless our flower farmers and exporters meet EU standards, we will not award phyto-sanitary certificates, which are crucial for exports. The EEA must enforce the new measures required for paste management. There is no room for complacency. If we continue business as usual, the EU will ban our flowers,” Fikre told The Reporter.

Wondale observes the EU is at zero tolerance for the FCM problem. He understands flower farms’ and exporters’ qualms about the costs of more frequent and stricter inspections, but urges them to bite the bullet.

“If we can’t control the pest now, the impact on flower exports will be fatal for Ethiopia. It’s not about one farm, it’s about the country,” he said.

The authorities have dispatched a team of experts to South Africa for lessons on controlling FCM.

Ethiopian Agricultural Authority (EAA)

 

 

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