Nairobi — Uganda's agricultural exporters have petitioned President Yoweri Museveni to stop the government's planned use of DDT in the fight against malaria.
The exporters are arguing that the controversial chemical will turn buyers against their products.
In an open letter to the president dated April 25, the exporters argue that a government plan to spray DDT only indoors to ensure that it does not get into the food chain, is not enough to assuage the fears of consumers in the West.
"There is no such thing as 'controlled' indoor spraying; DDT effluents will at some point enter the food chain and negatively impact on Uganda's export market," the petition says. The stigma that will then attach to Uganda's export products will affect all sectors. "Already, some importers of Ugandan products in Europe have threatened to stop buying our products once the spraying starts," adds the petition, which was signed by representatives of traditional and non-traditional exports organisations from the dairy, honey, coffee, tea, fish, textile, organic and horticultural produce sectors.
Uganda's non-traditional agricultural exports have outstripped traditional crops such as coffee, tea, tobacco and cotton.
Non-traditional agricultural exports grew to $408 million in 2004 from $182 million in 1998, while traditional exports dropped to $245 million in 2004 from $353 million in 1998.
In 2004, the non-traditional sector contributed 63 per cent to total export earnings, compared with 62 per cent in 2003. Fish exports increased to $103 million in 2004 from $87.4 million in 2003, a 18.2 per cent increase.
The petition follows a warning by the European Union mission in Uganda that DDT use could lead to the country's agricultural exports being locked out of the Union.
Tom Vens, the head of the Eco-nomic, Trade and Social Sectors desk at the EU Delegation to Uganda, said, "We have advised the government that it is taking a risk by going ahead with DDT use."
He said there will be no official EU ban on the country if it uses DDT according to laid down international conventions, but consumer organisations are free to react anyway they choose to.
Mr Vens said, "If the strict controls that should be put in place when DDT is used are not fully adhered to, and there is a risk of contamination of the food chain, it will not automatically lead to a ban on food products, but it will mean that that particular consignment cannot be sent to Europe."
However, outgoing Health Minister Jim Muhwezi, in response to the EU, said the country will go ahead with DDT use.
"Our plans are within the agreed framework of the World Health Organisation and there is nothing new in this," said Mr Muhwezi. "We shall use indoor residual spraying and this means it will not come into contact with the food chain."
He said the government does not plan mass spraying outside buildings and is educating the public on the use of the pesticide.
Eugene Nsereko, vice chairman of the Uganda Coffee Trade Federation, said the country risks losing its specialty coffee markets if the spraying goes ahead. "One may argue that it will be indoor spraying, but harvested coffee is kept in farmers' houses where definitely it will become contaminated."
DDT was used extensively in the 1950s and early 1960s to fight malaria and other pests across the world but was stopped after scientists expressed fears about its ability to accumulate in organisms, and its effects on humans - although no fatalities were reported.