Thursday, September 19, 2013

Victory in China!

By Chela Vázquez

Farmer applying endosulfan on cotton field in Xinjiang
 province, China. Picture provided by PEAC, Yunnan province, China.
China has joined the global effort to eliminate endosulfan. This is very good — and very big — news, since China is both a large user and major producer of this harmful, longlasting pesticide.

"We are glad that China's leadership has taken the right steps in protecting its citizens," says Dou Hong of Pesticide Eco-Alternative Center (PEAC), a PAN partner group in the Yunnan province. The 12th National People's Congress agreed to eliminate China's production and use of endosulfan in late August, when it ratified a global treaty amendment requiring the ban.

Endosulfan was added to the list of chemicals slated for a global elimination under the Stockholm Convention back in 2011, after a powerful push by PAN partners around the world. The antiquated pesticide is highly toxic to humans and most other organisms, and can persist for years — even decades — in the environment.

Toward endosulfan-free cotton & tea

China began producing endosulfan in 1994, with at least three companies manufacturing the active ingredient and about 40 more formulating endosulfan products. The pesticide was initially applied mainly in cotton fields, but by 1998 its use had extended to tea, wheat, tobacco, apples, and other fruits.

More than 25,000 tons of endosulfan were used on Chinese crops between 1994 and 2004.

China officially banned endosulfan use on tea and apples in 2011, but a few months ago the pesticide was found in 11 out of 18 tea products sampled. The residue on tea leaves has raised major concerns; drinking tea is an important part of Chinese culture and most people consume several cups a day. China is also a major tea exporter.

Farewell to a very bad actor

China's recent action represents a tremendous step in the right direction.

National data on endosulfan poisonings are hard to verify, but between 1999 to 2007 PEAC recorded 77 cases, of which 32 were fatal. Also, the National Poison Control Center of China has recorded 90 poisoning incidents from 2001 to 2003 including nine deaths.

The chemical can be harmful when in contact with the skin, by inhalation, and by ingestion. Severe poisonings in the state of Kerala, India have been linked to crippling disabilities in rural families.

Dou Hong emphasizes the importance of the government's recent decision to the people of China:

“Farmers, agricultural workers, and rural communities will be spared from this toxic chemical that is on record for poisoning people and the environment. Safe alternatives to endosulfan exist and we must make every effort to produce food that is healthy and that no one is harmed in its production.”

Endosulfan is one of the highly hazardous pesticides PAN International has targeted for global action. China's recent action represents a tremendous step in the right direction.

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Women farmers in Asia speak out

By Marjo Busto

Every day, rural women in Asia face mounting challenges caused by an increasingly broken system of food and agriculture. High food prices, low income, land grabbing, climate change and decreasing control over seeds mark the experiences of the women farmers who grow much of the region's food.

Our Stories, One Journey: Empowering Rural Women in Asia is a traveling journal, recording the thoughts of eight rural women for 10 days in eight different countries. The women write, draw and compose poetry and songs. Their message is simple: help transform agriculture into a more equitable, fair and sustainable system.

The project is a joint collaboration of PAN Asia Pacific (PAN AP), the Asian Rural Women's Coalition and Oxfam's GROW campaign. The journal started in the Philippines, and from there it went to Indonesia, China, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. It is now headed to Vietnam.

Powerful voices

We at PAN AP believe this is a powerful medium for the voices of rural women to be heard by those who shape national and international policies.

Entries are written in local languages, and will be translated and exhibited at our PAN AP Congress in September. It will then be shared during the FAO meeting on World Food Security in October 2013.

Here are a few brief excerpts and images from the stories that will be told.

Cambodia: Chey Siyat, a woman farmer and mother of five from Damnak Kantourt in Kampot province writes:

“In my community, the livelihood of people depends mainly on agriculture including rice, vegetables, fruit trees and livestock farming, which is the main source of household income.”

The Philippines: Margarita (Margie) Tagapan Margie is a member of the National Federation of Peasant Women in the Philippines (Amihan) and runs the Amihan cooperative grain store. She farms in Montalban, Rizal, at the foot of the Sierra Madre on Luzon island. She writes:

“I can say that I am a woman/mother who likes to work on the land. I have a passion for planting various kinds of vegetables.”

China: Li Zizhen is passionate about preserving the culture of her Bai ethnic people through dance and song, and is also a farmer who actively promotes ecological agriculture. She describes a typical day on the farm:

“Eight o’clock in the morning picked garlic in the fields. Two o’clock in the afternoon, returned home to eat lunch. Five o’clock in the afternoon, went out to sell garlic, and thought of October 2012 when I had planted it in the fields. Today picking garlic, time flew. The price of garlic this year is better than last year’s 9 yuan per kilo [$1.40 USD]."

Indonesia: A mother of four, Suryati, farms in an agrarian community in Pangalengan, West Java. She writes that Pangalengan used to be a fertile and productive land enjoyed by its tillers. Today, the majority of the lands are controlled by only a few companies involved in tea production, forestry, mining and horticulture.

“Without land we cannot produce food. That’s why genuine land reform has to be done.”

Marjo Busto works for PAN Asia-Pacific's Women in Agriculture program, and for the Secretariat to the Asian Rural Women's Coalition (ARWC). The Travelling Journal is one of the projects she coordinates to highlight rural women's concerns related to food and agriculture.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

COP 6 Stockholm Convention, Headway achieved – ecosystem based approaches to pest management made priority

May 2, 2013
Chela Vázquez

Government delegates and observers at ExCOPs-2, Geneva
It was rather an exhilarating moment when the delegation from PAN and IPEN witnessed 164 governments agreed that ecosystem-based approaches to pest management be made a priority. Governments recommended this approach when choosing alternatives to endosulfan, a dangerous insecticide targeted for global elimination. This pronouncement appears to signal that international policies may start to change as governments begin to take action to rid agriculture of toxic chemicals.

“This is a great move forward”, said Dr. Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific. “Ecosystem-based approaches to pest management have been shown to improve farmers’ income, food security and health, and to be better for the environment. Farmers become less reliant on expensive inputs and their production systems are more resilient in the face of climate change and other stressors. So this decision is very supportive of farmers, and we call on all governments to now rapidly assist their farmers to change from endosulfan-dependent chemical intensive farming to ecosystem-based approaches such as agroecology and organic farming.”

Dr. Meriel Watts delivered a statement on ecosystem-based alternatives to endosulfan
Tiffany Immingan from Saint Laurence island in Alaska making a statement at COP 6 of the Stockholm Convention.

Indigenous people from the Arctic pleaded with governments to stop releasing toxic persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that reach their traditional food and endanger their way of life. People in the Arctic have been found to have the highest concentration of POPs in their blood and breastmilk. POPs, such as endosulfan and DDT, bioaccumulate in high quantities in the Arctic due to a global phenomenon that carry and deposit these toxic chemicals in the Arctic, thousands of miles away from the place of application. 

The 6th. conference of the Parties (COP 6) to the Stockholm Convention met in Geneva, in simultaneous and back to back meetings with COP 11 of the Basel Convention and COP 6 of the Rotterdam Convention, April 28-May 10, 2013

New persistent organic pollutants have been ‘virtually’ approved for listing in the convention (awaiting official adoption on Thursday), such as the flame retardant HBCD and a proposed recycling exemption for HBCD was rejected. These are victories in the struggle to protect human health and the environment.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Syngenta’s paraquat up for global review

Woman worker spraying paraquat in a banana plantation in China. Picture provided by the Pesticide Eco-Alternative Center, Yunnan, China.

Next week, governments from around the world will decide whether to put strict controls on Syngenta's highly toxic herbicide paraquat — or maintain the status quo.

This pesticide has long been banned in its country of origin, Switzerland, and its use is highly restricted in most industrialized nations, including the U.S. Yet it continues to be sold indiscriminately in developing countries where farmers and workers often cannot read technical labels and are unable to protect themselves from the pesticide's harmful effects.

Next week's decision could change all of this, as delegates to the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent — a global treaty governing trade in toxic chemicals — meet in Geneva. In an open letter to these government officials, groups around the world insist on global controls on this acutely toxic herbicide that is hurting thousands of peasants and farmers in the developing world.

Prior informed consent


The Rotterdam Convention dictates that countries be informed before importing toxic chemicals that have been banned in other countries. Countries can then take action and ban the import and use of the chemical, or impose strict restrictions.

Paraquat (and specifically the paraquat dichloride 20% formulation, also known as Gramoxone Super) was proposed for inclusion on the "Prior Informed Consent" list by Burkina Faso; this proposal will be considered behind closed doors at next week's meeting.

The open letter, signed by 89 organizations from 35 countries and led by PAN International and our partners at the Berne Declaration, urges governments to rise to the occasion and take action on paraquat. It highlights the importance of the decision, especially in developing countries:

Paraquat is a highly hazardous herbicide, with no antidote, responsible for causing deaths and severe injuries to agricultural workers, farmers, and rural communities worldwide.

Many very poor people, especially in Asia and Latin America, have experienced severe health harms, and some have even died from exposure to paraquat. The herbicide is used to kill weeds in oil palm plantations, as well as in rubber, bananas, coffee, pineapples, rice, corn, and other crops.

Documented health effects of exposure to the chemical include Parkinsons’s disease, neurological disorders, endocrine disruption, and cancer.

Moneymaker for Syngenta


Paraquat is an important moneymaker for its creator and main manufacturer, the Swiss company Syngenta. Despite bans in many countries — including Switzerland — international policies allow exports of this antiquated herbicide for continued use in poor communities around the world.

Now is the time to bring this dangerous chemical under control. Governments must heed the clamor of workers, farmers, women and children around the world, and take action.

PAN International is asking that concerned citizens around the world call Ministries of Environment and Foreign Relations and ask them to say YES to the inclusion of paraquat dichloride 20% formulation in the Rotterdam Convention when governments meet next week.