BY BAMUTURAKI MUSINGUZI
Organic produce farmers in Uganda have now come out to oppose the government’s plans to spray DDT across the country to fight malaria.
Under their umbrella organisation, the National Organic Agricultural Movement (Nogamu), the farmers say the recent approval of the spraying of DDT inside houses by the National Environment Authority (Nema) will affect not only organic products but the country’s entire agricultural exports.
“Any traces of DDT in organic exports will result in their not being allowed in Europe,” Nogamu’s executive director Moses Muwanga told The EastAfrican.
“Even though the Ministry of Health claims to have talked to the European Union, it has failed to understand that the market in Europe is driven by consumers and the private sector. What this means is that even if the EU approved the use of DDT, it would not force the importers in Europe to import from Uganda.”
Mr Muwanga said that companies in Europe are not ready to associate with any country using DDT because of the stigma associated with the chemical. The European importers will have no alternative but seek other suppliers.
In June last year, Nema approved DDT for indoor residual spraying to fight malaria following an environment impact assessment that established that indoor DDT spraying had no negative impact on the environment. The spraying will be conducted from community to community under World Health Organisation guidelines.
In a study carried out last year, scientists from Makerere University found that there were no harmful effects on people from Kigezi where DDT was sprayed 40 years ago. The researchers tested people’s urine and blood and also earthworms, soils, fish, beef and beans.
Officials in the Health Ministry say they will go ahead with the spraying of DDT as one of several measures to kill mosquito-borne malaria, the leading cause of death in Uganda.
European Union officials in Kampala have said there will be no automatic ban on agricultural exports from Uganda. They have, however, warned that specific consignments that are contaminated will not be accepted.
DDT is a classified persistent organic pollutant, which lingers in the food chain for several years. Government officials say the insecticide will be sprayed on the walls of houses to avoid contamination of the soil and food.
Uganda has the most developed certified organic sector in Africa with the lowest use of agro-chemicals, where the majority are smallholder farmers practising natural or traditional farming methods.
Experts say that although still small and far below the increasing global demand, the country’s exports of organic agricultural produce have been growing substantially in recent years. Over 68 per cent of Uganda’s exports are agriculture products.
Last year, Uganda exported certified organic goods worth $10 million, up from $6 million in 2005, mainly to Europe and North America. Exports to Europe accounted for over 80 per cent.
The major organic export products are coffee, cotton, dried bananas, paw paws, pineapples, passion fruits, chillies, vegetables, herbs, ginger and sesame. Two sectors of particular significance in recent years have been fresh and dried fruits and vegetables, and — most recently — vanilla.
The association’s officials say Uganda’s organic annual agricultural potential is estimated to be over $100 million.
“Our problem is limited supply, because the current demand is higher than what we produce,” Mr Muwanga said.
In Africa, there are 320,943 hectares of certified organic land, of which 185,000 hectares are in Uganda, according to the association.
Nogamu is a membership organisation that unites farmers, producers, exporters and other stakeholders to promote organic agriculture. It represents over 35,000 international certified organic farmers and works with partner organisations throughout the country.
East Africa currently leads the continent in exports of certified organic products. Organic produce generally sells at premium prices in overseas markets.
Domestic markets are also growing rapidly through the efforts of the Kenyan Organic Agriculture Network, the Tanzanian Organic Agriculture Movement and Nogamu.