Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) And Green Cane Harvesting

in Issue 33 by

In 2015 the Department of the Environment (DOE) started a national project entitled “Belize Chemicals and Waste Management Project”, which aims to manage and dispose of all existing stockpiles of POPs, as well as reducing the release of unintentional POPs (UPOPs) into Belize’s environment. In the past DDT was used extensively to control mosquitoes that carry malaria and dengue. Other chemicals continue to be used in agriculture. Now it is being recognized that these chemicals have unforeseen negative effects on human health and the environment. POPs can be transported by wind and water, and affect people and wildlife far from where they are used. They exist for very long periods of time in the environment and can accumulate and pass from one species to the next through the food chain.
UPOPs are certain types of chemicals that are produced and released as a result of industrial processes and from combustion; for example, open burning of municipal and medical waste, agricultural burning, and even backyard burning of trash. The practice of open burning of waste and the slash and burn practices in agriculture (e.g. burning of cane fields) are the main sources of unintentional formation and release of POPs, such as dioxins and furans. Sugar cane harvesting typically includes two burnings. With the elimination of the second burning of sugarcane harvest, it is expected to reduce the unintended releases of UPOPs in the agricultural sector.
Green harvesting (which is the harvesting of cane without the traditional burning of the fields) allows for the leaves and plant trash to remain in the fields covering the ground, protecting the soil from erosion, increasing soil moisture, providing weed control, and reducing herbicide use.

The DOE has partnered with the Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute (SIRDI) to promote farmer-voluntary programs in green harvesting and implement piloted alternatives to reduce agricultural burning in sugar cane farming to reduce UPOPs emissions from the sugar industry. The DOE and SIRDI hosted three field days of green harvesting demonstrations to farmers in Orange Walk and Corozal, using mechanical harvesting. They intend to develop a seed bank of 10 acres with 4 to 5 varieties of sugar cane suited for green harvesting. As part of a “best management practices” (BMP) emphasis, these demonstrations served to encourage cane farmers to decrease burning of cane and to support a clean and healthy environment. Currently, the industry lacks the sugarcane varieties that are well-suited for green harvesting, those that shed their mature leaves and are upright standing varieties, conducive to both manual and mechanical green harvesting. The BMP plan includes the development of a nursery that will provide these varieties to farmers that are interested in green harvesting.
The Department of the Environment (DOE) is responsible for monitoring developments that have the potential to significantly alter the natural state of the environment as well as compliance with international environmental agreements, such as the Stockholm Convention on Chemicals. The Stockholm Convention on Chemicals is a legally binding international agreement that tasks all participating countries to take actions to reduce or eliminate the production, use, and/or release into the environment of POPs.
For further information, please contact:

Chief Environmental Officer
Department of the Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment & Sustainable Development
Market Square, Belmopan
Tel: 822-2548/2819 Fax: 822-2860
Email: or