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[SANET-MG] Beauty and the Beast – Flowers can Poll ute
Many may recollect Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher. Head of
Environment Protection Authority of Ethiopia, was treated
disrespectfully by the Canadian government and prevented from attending
a UN environment conference held in Canada. The issue was that he held
views on environmental issues that a polluted government abhorred.
ISIS Press Release 30/08/06
Beauty and the Beast – Flowers can Pollute
Launching the International Flower Campaign
Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher. Head of Environment Protection
Authority of Ethiopia, chief negotiator and spokesperson of the Like
Minded Group for Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and African Group for
the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, winner of Right
Livelihood Award 2000,Champion of the Earth 2006 and President of
Sustainable World Initiative
Flowers are undoubtedly among the most beautiful things in life. That is
why poets have always praised them. That is why we celebrate major
events using them. That is why people idolize their loved ones through them.
Of course not all flowers are beautiful. Some are downright ugly. Some
stink like rotten meat or worse. But we can choose and use the ones that
suit us. And those that suit us can be fussy: beauty is not easy to charm.
Flowers are designed to advertise the plant to many animal species –
mostly insects. They advertise for help in cross-pollination. They
reward those that help them mostly with nectar, but also with pollen.
But as you know, not all invited guests are grateful. Some are downright
greedy. They take more than what the plant is willing to give. They
attack it. They eat its parts. They kill it.
If it is a plant that produces flowers that we love, we, humans,
naturally want to help the plant. We are known for being greedy. I
suppose that that is why we are successful on this Earth, why we are
displacing more and more living things, why the Earth is experiencing
the largest rate of extinction of species in its very long history, and
why human numbers keep growing geometrically.
So, we kill those living things that kill the flowers we love. But the
flower-killers are mostly insects. And insects have proved themselves to
us to be more difficult to kill off than the fearsome lions, tigers and
snakes. So, we go into a lot of trouble to poison the insects, often
with limited luck.
We do this especially not because we love the flowers, though we usually
do, but because we want to sell them. We love money more than flowers.
Money can buy you beauty. So, what is wrong if you sell beauty for
money? Nothing wrong. What is wrong if you poison horrible and ugly
insects? In principle, nothing wrong.
But killers are not always choosey. Many insect poisons kill off other
beautiful insects as well. For example, who hates butterflies? What
would be best is to have both the flower and the butterfly – including
the money, of course!
Talking of money, I would like to recall the association between bees
and flowers, between bees and honey, and between honey and money.
So, wanting money from selling flowers, we may kill off insects. But
bees are insects too. Therefore, if we kill bees we loose money. In
fact, that would have been relatively minor if it had no other
ramifications. Unfortunately, if we kill off insects, our peas, beans,
faba beans chick peas, lentils, Niger seed, safflower, sunflower,
rapeseed, linseed, etc would not cross pollinate. Heavens, what would we
We want flowers, beautiful flowers. We want butterflies, beautiful
butterflies. We do not mind ugly moths. So, we better be careful about
poisoning the insects that eat our flowers.
If we are not careful, we may even poison the lovely ladies that tend
the flowers in the flower beds.
You may say that not all insect poisons kill people. True. For example,
DDT does not kill people. However, it does something less obvious and
Have you heard of little girls in DDT sprayed sugarcane plantations
starting to menstruate at the age of seven years? It has happened many
times. Why? Because DDT and similar organochlorine substances mimic
female hormones. So, the small bodies of seven year-old girls feel that
they are being supplied with the amount of female hormones that young
women of 18 produce. Therefore, they menstruate.
How about the boys? Do you know what happens to males whose bodies are
subjected to female hormones? They develop feminine traits. Do you think
that a society where males and females are approximately the same is viable?
No. That is why the world now has the Persistent Organic Pollutants
Convention, or POPs Convention, which aims at eliminating from the world
organochlorine pesticides and a few other dangerous synthetic chemicals.
So let us have flowers, by all harmless means. But let us remember that
if the chemicals we use to protect flowers from pests harm humans or the
environment, we will be held liable.
Ethiopia now has laws to control pollution. If anybody pollutes anything
and causes or risks causing damage, he will be liable. And it is not
only the person who suffers the damage that has the right to take the
culprit to court. Any person can.
Before investing in something that can cause such damage and make one
liable, it is advisable to carry out an environmental impact assessment.
An environmental impact assessment helps the floriculturists to choose
the safe technologies to grow flowers for their enjoyment and benefit
Regular environmental auditing after starting to grow the flowers
enables the floriculturists to keep humans and the environment safe, and
to fill their pocket free from the risk of being emptied by the impacts
These instruments are available in the form of laws, standards, and
guidelines. Heed them and grow your flowers and fill your pockets. If
you do not heed them, sooner or later, your pockets will be emptied.
Be sensible and enjoy as well as benefit from flowers. Otherwise, see
you in court.
Finally, I would like to say how I have enjoyed making these comments. I
thank the Forum for Environment and the International Flower Campaign
for the opportunity.
Keynote address at the Multi-stakeholder Forum of the International
Flower Campaign, Hilton Hotel, Addis Ababa, 18 May 2006
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