Methyl bromide (MBr) is a colorless, nonflammable and highly toxic gas and a broad spectrum pesticide with applications in the control of pest insects, nematodes, weeds, pathogens and rodents. In agriculture, methyl bromide is primarily used for soil fumigation, as well as for commodity and quarantine treatment. It is also a significant ozone-depleting substance; therefore it is one of the listed substances under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
Since 1996 the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has been a driving force behind methyl bromide phase-out projects in developing countries. As such, UNIDO has introduced alternative technologies for soil and commodities fumigation, trained farmers and conducted demonstration projects and awareness raising campaigns in almost 60 countries.
Association of Fruit and Vegetable Producers and Exporters of Morocco - MoroccoInitiative partner
Since its foundation, 24 February 1994, the Association of Fruit and Vegetable Producers and Exporters (APEFEL) has represented a turning point within the fruit and vegetable sector, thanks to the emergence of a new approach in agricultural unionism, essentially based on a thorough analysis of the sector’s constraints and also on its high capability to produce ideas and to propose solutions. • The APEFEL represents its members and defends their interests before their partners: administrations, banks, as well as national and international organisms. The association works for the implementation of a rational organization and for the design of the best strategy for this sector, not only in the production, but also in the packaging, the logistics and the commercialization of products at national and international levels. • The association represents producers and producers-exporters responsible for the 70% of total fruit and vegetable exports. It is constantly attracting new investors within this sector, given its dynamism and its services. Since its foundation, APEFEL has a track record in many achievements. Given its significant efforts at every economic and social level for the last 20 years, and given its aim at pushing towards a solid and more efficient sector, the association has overcome all its constraints and the situation of its members has improved. Among its main tasks, APEFEL has an active role in the negotiations with the European Union and the United States of America, and it demonstrates a strong involvement every time the national exports are threatened. The association also cooperates with international organizations, such as UNIDO for the implementation of a project on the phase-out of methyl bromide in tomato production, under the Montreal Protocol for the protection of the ozone layer. Within this project, the Transfer and Technology Center was created.
Centre of Competence for the Innovation in the Agro-Environmental Sector, University of Torino - ItalyInitiative partner
Established at the University of Torino in 2002, the Centre of Competence for the innovation in the agro-environmental field carries out basic and applied research, knowledge and technology transfer, life-long learning and communication on up-to-date topics in the agro-environmental and agro-food sectors. It has several national and international collaborations, with public Institutions and the private sector. The Centre possesses extensive facilities including laboratories, experimental fields and greenhouses and hosts two National Certified laboratories, one for testing agrochemicals efficacy, the second for Diagnostics of plant pathogens. AGROINNOVA engaged in cooperation with UNIDO in the context of the total phase-out of MBr in China. As being done in Romania under a similar project, UNIDO and AGROINNOVA experts collaborated with China in phasing-out the use of MBr for soil fumigation in the horticultural sector. The first actions targeted the strawberry sector, where mature MBr alternatives were already available. In respect of tomatoes and other vegetables, the focus was on the use of grafted plant on resistant rootstocks.
Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol - CanadaInitiative partner
The Fund is dedicated to reversing the deterioration of the Earth's ozone layer. It was established in 1991 to assist developing countries meet their Montreal Protocol commitments. It is managed by an Executive Committee with equal membership from developed and developing countries. The Fund Secretariat in Montreal assists the Committee in this task. Since 1991, the Fund has approved activities including industrial conversion, technical assistance, training and capacity building worth over US $3.0 billion. The Multilateral Fund was established by a decision of the Second Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol (London, June 1990) and began its operation in 1991. The main objective of the Fund is to assist developing country parties to the Montreal Protocol to comply with the control measures of the Protocol. Currently, 148 of the 197 Parties to the Montreal Protocol are provided with certain assistance to meet these criteria. The work the Multilateral Fund finances on the ground in developing countries is carried out by four implementing agencies, which have contractual agreements with the Executive Committee: the United Nations Environment Programme, United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and the World Bank. UNIDO became an implementing agency of the Multilateral Fund in 1992 and its Montreal Protocol Programme supports industry in using ozone- and climate- friendly substances in six specific sectors: refrigeration and air-conditioning, foams for insulation and cushioning, fire protection, solvents, fumigants, and aerosols. In each of these areas, the Montreal Protocol Programme seeks cost-effective ways of reducing the use of ODS and, thus, its projects contribute to the introduction of new, clean and up-to-date technologies; the upgrade of production lines with brand new equipment, and the dissemination of adequate training on technology and industrial safety, including human health aspects. It also provides technical assistance for governmental institutions to strengthen regulatory frameworks and monitoring of ODS consumption, as well as public awareness activities and training for centres handling these controlled substances. UNIDO’s performance is continuously highly rated by the Executive Committee of the Multilateral Fund and the Organization has been ranked as one of the top implementing agencies since 2001.
For decades, an ozone-depleting substance (ODS) called methyl bromide (MBr) was used in the culture of many crops as the main fumigant around the world to rid the soil of pests, diseases and weeds. Eliminating the use of MBr in developing countries has been a great challenge, but at the same time created an opportunity to promote innovative and non-chemical alternatives. By initiating the transition towards sustainable resource management, UNIDO has been instrumental in phasing-out MBr. In partnership with local governments and institutions, UNIDO brought the benefits of environmentally friendly alternatives to growers in sectors, such as tomato, strawberry, pepper and melon, thus guaranteeing the supply of important foods in terms of quality and quantity. Through the adoption of new technologies, these growers developed successful disease and pest management programs that are not only independent from MBr and other soil fumigants, but also efficient and sustainable in the long term.
UNIDO’s program to phase-out MBr led to a revolution in the horticulture sector. Since MBr is an effective fumigant and pesticide, growers were strongly dependent on its use, which meant that finding an alternative required a significant effort in adapting existing alternatives and creating new solutions for different circumstances.
Since there is no one-to-one alternative to MBr, changes in production strategies, process management and infrastructure were necessary. The technical, economic and commercial feasibility of alternatives have been also tested. Practices such as non-soil cultivation and optimal use of soil fumigants in combination with integrated pest management were implemented throughout the developing world leading to an innovative take on sustainable resource management. Since the majority of farmers adopted continuous monocultures and employed soil disinfestations practices, this represented a groundbreaking change as alternatives introduced were mainly chemical-free.
Through the ratification of the Montreal Protocol (MP), all countries in the world agreed with phase-out deadlines of several ODSs, including MBr. UNIDO, as one of the implementing agencies of the MP, has taken the lead in assisting countries in complying with these phase-out deadlines. The year 2015 marks the final date for developing countries to phase-out this substance.
Besides being harmful to the ozone layer, MBr is extremely toxic, acting as a broad-spectrum biocide that kills most living organisms exposed to it. Direct exposure may cause several negative health effects in humans. Sectors using MBr were diverse, but mostly consisted of vegetables, bananas, strawberries and flowers.
Without assistance, producers from all around the developing world would have most likely gone bankrupt, stopped production, or used MBr illegally, thus jeopardizing worldwide food security. That is why assistance was greatly needed in order to migrate to different and more sustainable technologies.
From an environmental perspective, UNIDO’s program contributed significantly to the protection of the ozone layer. Moreover, most of the alternative technologies introduced were chemical-free, having a positive impact also on human health.
From the perspective of food security, the supply of various crops essential for human diet was guaranteed, while ensuring proper quality and quantity.
58 developing countries complied with the phase-out targets of the MP.
Farmers also benefitted: not only were they able to survive the transition away from MBr, they also got the opportunity to migrate to different and more sustainable crop and soil management practices.
In most cases, growers could:
- Decrease costs of chemicals, maintain/increase yield and revenue;
- Maintain/increase quality of crops;
- Become more competitive in international markets, which increasingly require products grown within environment-friendly standards;
- Acquire experience in diverse crop and soil management techniques.
Farmers in general (small and large production scales) greatly benefitted from the program as it went beyond the replacement of chemicals: it helped them learn, grow and prosper.
UNIDO worked in many instances with farmers and exporters associations to disseminate good practices and assist stakeholders.
Their need to find a tailored solution to each of their circumstances (climate, type of crop, economic situation and type of labor employed) without compromising the yield was met as UNIDO strived to adapt and find individual solutions for particular cases in developing countries.
Through the successful adoption of novel technologies such as vegetable grafting in Mexico, bio-control agents in Honduras, soilless systems in Turkey or compost technology in Morocco, these growers have developed successful disease and pest management programs that are not reliant on MBr or other soil fumigants, and which are proving to be equally efficient and sustainable in the long term.
This program would not have been successful without the support of people from different organizations, both on the field and inside negotiation rooms. While the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the MP and other bilateral donors funded the initiative, UNIDO made sure experts in the field of agriculture and environmental management were involved in the administration and monitoring of projects in the field.
The hiring of renowned local and international experts in the field of pest management was also essential for the success of the program. Researchers in universities also had a major role in finding alternative technologies.
Most importantly, the active support of local authorities, particularly the National Ozone Units, governments, as well as concerned farmers and associations was indispensable for the proper functioning and execution of UNIDO’s MBr program.
UNIDO helped developing countries to achieve the 2015 deadline ahead of time, but it was not easy. Since changes in production strategies were necessary, reticence and skepticism from the part of growers and other stakeholders were often encountered. This was reflected in:
- Fear of increase in cost with the introduction of alternatives;
- Low confidence in the efficacy of alternatives;
- Insufficient technology transfer between researchers and farmers.
UNIDO tried to overcome these obstacles by disseminating alternatives tested in many countries and by providing information on the costs of alternatives.
Moreover, MBr remains in use in several countries under the broad exemptions granted for critical agricultural uses and for quarantine and pre-shipment applications. Many developing countries will use these exemptions starting in 2015, sometimes even illegally. UNIDO will support governments to issue and enforce regulations on controlled uses and tests alternatives.
UNIDO’s program to phase-out MBr has eliminated approximately 11,000 tons of MBr, which is equivalent to more than 6,500 tons of ozone-depleting potential (ODP). This translates into nearly 70% of all activities to phase-out MBr in the developing world under the MP.
Besides that, the use of MBr was largely connected to monocultures, where crop rotation is rarely adopted, affecting crops both in quantity and quality, thus making necessary the adoption of soil disinfestations practices. Alternative practices introduced by UNIDO pushed for more sustainable crop practices, including crop rotation, grafting and composting, which have an enormous impact on the soil, biodiversity, and ecosystem.
UNIDO, together with partners, has implemented over 200 MBr projects (ranging from technical assistance to demonstration projects) in 58 different countries. Developing best practices in all those countries has proven that the program is sustainable and that alternatives can be learned and transferred from country to country, when appropriately adapted to different circumstances. The model employed by UNIDO is duplicable because it is mostly based on economical and viable solutions. Proof of this is the fact that:
- As of 2015, farmers are officially no longer relying on MBr;
- The supply of crops which relied on MBr has not decreased. Instead, it was able to respond to the increasing global demand.
Besides promoting several fora such as conferences, meetings and workshops on the sustainable alternative practices surrounding the topic of MBr, UNIDO has also published the brochures, the publications and videos attached, presenting the greatest results and main achievements of the program. The dissemination and awareness raising activities at local level are always carried out in cooperation with trade associations, training centers and primarily with the National Ozone Units. The Technology Transfer Center (TTC) in Agadir, Morocco is a great example of dissemination at local level. TTC was established to allow farmers see technologies for pest management at work and learn how to use them. The Center not only helps in promoting new non-chemical technologies for crop production to growers but also works in the field of applied research.