NEWS By ADAM IHUCHA Special Correspondent Posted Saturday, September 29 2012 at 17:57 IN SUMMARY Late last year, Tanzania imposed a blanket ban on plastic bags between 30 and 65 microns thick in a bid to protect the environment. Flower firms have run out of bags - and options. The firms say the specifications of packaging are dictated by international standards, which require a thickness of 30 microns for packaging cut flowers for export. Tanzania's multi-million dollar horticultural industry is now feeling the pinch of the government's outright ban on disposable plastic bags. Late last year, Tanzania imposed a blanket ban on plastic bags between 30 and 65 microns thick in a bid to protect the environment. The flower firms had sufficient stock of plastic bags to last them a number of months when the ban was announced, and had hoped to lobby the government to reconsider the ban. But now, they have run out of bags - and options. The firms say the specifications of packaging are dictated by international standards, which require a thickness of 30 microns for packaging cut flowers for export. Now with the ban in place, flower exporters cannot access packaging materials nor export their cut flowers, threatening the profitability of the $80 million industry. Tanzania Horticultural Association (Taha) executive director Jacqueline Mkindi said last week that flower exporters are currently counting losses, as they cannot ship unpacked consignments, putting nearly 6,000 jobs at risk. The EastAfrican has learnt that nearly 35,000 tonnes of cut flowers are stranded in cold rooms in northern Tanzania due to lack of packaging materials. In addition, several foreign investors specialising in cut flowers are considering moving to neighbouring countries, rather than incur losses. But even moving the businesses may not salvage the industry, as governments in the region are trying to emulate Rwanda, which imposed a total ban on plastic bags in 2008. Kenya and Uganda banned the thinnest plastic bags five years ago, and in February, the East Africa Legislative Assembly passed the EAC Polythene Materials Control Bill, which restricts the use, sale, manufacture and importation of polythene. The Bill is awaiting presidential assent by the EAC heads of state, after which it will become law in all the EAC countries. The flower subsector in Tanzania is mainly based in Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions. "This policy has turned out to be the worst enemy to our cut-flowers sub-industry," Ms Mkindi said, adding: "Taha is engaging the government officials to consider lifting the ban. "This has nothing to do with the domestic market, it is for the international market which requires cut flowers to be packed in a plastic material with a 30 microns," she said. Horticulture is the third major foreign currency earner after minerals and tourism. It has earned the economy nearly $990 million in the past three years. The sub-sector also employs nearly 350,000 local people, mostly unskilled labour. According to statistics from the government data show the horticulture is contributing between eight of 10 per cent to the gross domestic product.