Ethiopia's agriculture authorities are urgently addressing compliance issues with the European Union's forthcoming standard on False Coddling Moth (FCM), a move that could pose a significant threat to the country's fresh-cut rose exports. Under Deriba Kuma, officials at the Agriculture Authority were actively engaging in discussions to ensure that the country's flower production aligns with the stringent requirements that will take effect at the start of May. Deriba recently returned from Brussels, Belgium, where he met with European regulators to strategise on meeting these standards.

The newly ratified EU rules will escalate inspections on cut rose flower exports from countries like Ethiopia and Kenya from five percent to 25pc. This heightened scrutiny aims to identify potential contamination by FCM before the flowers cross the Union's borders.

"It is not easy," Deriba told Fortune, "But we can manage through strict measures."

To address the issue without causing a shock to the sector, the Authority convened industry insiders at the Capital Hotel in Haile Gebreselassie St. Deriba urged companies to develop pest control strategies, enhance crop protection measures, and re-engineer their greenhouses. The meeting discussed an action plan encompassing domestic inspection certification, legal provisions, administrative actions, and export bans.

With Europe accounting for 70pc of Ethiopia's half-billion-dollar flower export revenue last year, particularly roses, Wondale Habtamu, deputy director, emphasised the need for quarterly inspections on flower farms to avoid a situation like Kenya, where Authorities banned seven export companies.

Acknowledging the difficulty of becoming a pest-free country but stressing the feasibility of achieving pest-free production through stringent due diligence and compliance strategies, he said: "There will be no excuses."

The tentative action plan includes technology upscaling for inspections at airport checkpoints. Meeuwes Brouwer, an agricultural counsellor at the Netherlands Embassy in Addis Abeba, expressed plans to offer technical and financial assistance to Dutch-based flower farmers in Ethiopia but cautioned that full compliance would be a lengthy process. The Netherlands is often regarded as the flower capital of the world and accounts for nearly 70pc of Ethiopia's exports to European markets.

"It will be a long road ahead to fully comply with the requirements," he told Fortune.

Tewodros Zewde, the general manager of the Ethiopian Horticulture Producer Exporter Association, voiced concerns that the new standards could jeopardise a significant portion of export earnings but commended the Authority's tight response.

"There was no way around it," he said.

Inspections for FCM began in 2018 at five percent, revealing 43 incidents of contamination in Ethiopian exports over six years. The EU has imposed inspection obligations of up to 100pc on South Africa and Rwanda flower exports.

To maintain goodwill with European buyers, the Authority urged flower companies to diligently uphold inspections at 25pc over the next three months. Some companies, like Friendship Flowers Plc, appealed for assistance in obtaining foreign exchange for necessary chemicals.

Tsehaynesh Fekadu, the farm manager, pleaded for assistance in finding foreign exchange to bring in the necessary chemicals. The company located on a 26hct plot in Bishoftu, Oromia Regional State primarily cultivates rose flowers for exports towards Europe, which are challenged by the lack of forex for chemical purchases.

"We need help," she told Fortune.

The Authority's deputy head suggested ongoing discussions with other federal agencies to bring about better access to foreign currency for flower exporters and improved facilitation during the import of chemicals as lasting remedies.

While some companies expressed concerns about the timing of the new standards, others, such as Sher Ethiopia Plc, emphasised the need for a prolonged transition period for effective FCM control during warm May temperatures.

"We need more time," said Kifleyesus Tekeste, production manager.

Agricultural economist Shimeles Araya (PhD) warned that compliance could lead to a spike in production costs, making Ethiopian flowers less competitive internationally. He suggested seeking alternative markets in the short term while progressively improving compliance capacities to meet evolving sustainability standards in the marketplace.

"The future of these farms is in a delicate state," he said.

PUBLISHED ON Mar 02,2024 [ VOL 24 , NO 1244]

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