Monday, November 17, 2014

The Future of Poisoned Children (Poem)

By: Romeo F. Quijano, M.D.

Look into the future my friend and see the mass of poisoned children
Born into the muck of apathy they seem to wander aimlessly
Brains impaired and bodies made frail insidiously by toxic mists
Deprived of vision deprived of hope,  no path to tread nowhere to go.

Look into the food they eat and see the dreg it had become
Examine the water they drink, not even fit for pets you own
Pesticides in their springs, wells and rivers, lakes and seas
Poisons bathing all their farms, rice, vegetables and even sweets.

Wasn't there a global summit as early as 1990,
For a better future of progeny, political action it has to be?
But where is that promise to create a world fit for children,
Where is that global pledge to protect the rights of every child?

Are there not many institutions, UN bodies, various governments
Enacting laws and regulations to protect health and environment?
Are there not scientists who know toxic chemicals and the risks?
Aren't there any publication telling the true information?

All swept away by the avalanche of capitalist greed!
Unleashed  by the brute force of a superpower gone crazy
Pushed by the ruthless might of agrochemical TNCs,
Vile bureaucrats complicit, children's welfare trumped by profits!

Book into the future, my friend, and join the mass of people rising
Gather a crowd of enlightened gentry and be a revolutionary!
No more brains impaired no more bodies made frail by toxic mists
Vision restored and hope revived, our path is clear, children set free!


Friday, September 12, 2014

Promoting ecological agriculture

Promoting ecological agriculture

With CPAM creating strong awareness among farming communities, many of them not only pledged to reduce pesticide use, but also wanted to move towards farming without chemicals – that is, towards organic or ecologi-cal agriculture. After the CPAM process, PAN AP’s partner Vikalpani, the Sri Lankan Women’s Federation, was motivated to work with PAN AP to organize a series of training workshops on organic farming for its members, many of whom are now practising organic agriculture in their home gardens and in their rice fields.

PAN AP has been a strong advocate for small-farm BEA as a sustainable alternative to the toxic model of modern agriculture. BEA is also a fundamental component of food sovereignty. It provides sustainable livelihoods for small farming communities and strengthens community resilience in coping with climate change. It is one of the Five Pillars of Rice Wisdom that form the foundation of PAN AP’s Save Our Rice campaign, launched in 2003. With the global food, financial and climate crises which emerged in 2008, the importance of BEA in sustaining the food security and food sover-eignty of small, vulnerable rice communities all over Asia took on greater urgency. Thus, capacity-building has featured largely in our activities in recent years as a focus area that contributed significantly towards community resilience and sustainable development.

We identified the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) as an impor-tant BEA technology for sustainable livelihoods. This was because SRI had proven to reduce production costs while increasing yields and net incomes significantly in several Asian countries over the past three decades. Two regional workshops for network partners and farmers from eight Asian countries were organized in Cambodia and India, with partner organizations Centre d’Etude et de Développement Agricole Cambodgien (CEDAC) and Kudumbam respectively acting as trainers due to their expertise in SRI. Another regional training programme on farmer empowerment, seed breeding and climate change adaptation using diversified integrated farming systems was organized for partners and farmers from 11 countries to meet the need for rice communities to learn to organize themselves, save seeds and adapt to climate change. This training was conducted by MASIPAG, a farmer-scientist partnership for development in the Philippines, due to its expertise in the areas of focus. These were fundamental areas for the sustainable development of poor rural communities.

Indigenous women preparing a nursery bed as part of the BEA training in Sarawak.

Having close network partners with BEA expertise has been very significant and a major strength for our network. With these partners, we have managed more effectively to meet the needs of our other network partners and the sectors both we and they serve. Other than training, such partners have also helped us to develop important factsheets on BEA and farmer empowerment, which have been translated by network partners into local languages to strengthen their BEA sustainability initiatives.

We also responded to local needs for capacity-build-ing in BEA where local communities were found to be struggling with low yields and incomes. Local indigenous communities in East Malaysia and small rice farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand, India, received special hands-on training in BEA and SRI skills.

All the BEA projects were very much appreciated by the participants, who said they had gained a lot from the training and who continue to practise and benefit from their new skills. Trainees have reported gains such as minimizing pest attacks by using organic pesticides they have learned to make. They have also achieved improved yields, better incomes and a more diversified diet (for example from kitchen gardens), and have even increased their adaptive capacity to climate change. Seed breeding techniques learned from MASIPAG have been upscaled at the local level in several countries, including Indonesia, Nepal, Cambodia and India.

PAN AP works with marginalized groups to ensure food security and a healthy environment farmer said of the MASIPAG training: “It widened my vision and knowledge in terms of the role of local rice seeds for farmers.” Meanwhile, network partners have shared how these initiatives have helped them build capacity to upscale BEA initiatives at the local level and empowered local communities to do better.

The capacity-building activities have facilitated the upscaling of BEA practices; built BEA skills among farmers, non-governmental organi-zation (NGO) staff, agricultural extension workers and others; and supported local action and network building. Collectively, the activities have significantly contributed to the sustainable human development of small rice farming communities in various countries in Asia.

In 2009, the rice fields of Yunnan, China, were destroyed by the rice plant hopper and we collaborated with our network partner in Yunnan, the Pesticide Eco-Alternatives Center (PEAC), to address the situation. A short study was carried out, followed by a cross-country workshop on the results, involving NGOs, academics, scientists and policymakers from China, Vietnam, Laos and Burma. In addition, we produced factsheets on the rice plant hopper and Integrated Pest Management. All these efforts were timely responses by PAN AP and PEAC to the crisis, to convince agriculturalists and policymakers that the use of pesticides actually exacerbates rice plant hopper attacks and is unsustainable, whereas BEA methods are effective and sustainable in dealing with pests.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Future of Poisoned Children

By Romeo F. Quijano, M.D.

My grandson, David, stays in our house 2-3 times a week while his parents are at work. It is my wife who usually does the babysitting but I often have the chance to do the babysitting myself whenever I am at home. Despite my many travels abroad and to Mindanao, I get to spend quite a lot of time with David, enjoying every moment of it - playing, showing him some simple tricks, singing songs, listening to music on line and dancing (he's such a good dancer!), playing my mandolin to him, feeding him, assisting him in the toilet, putting him to sleep, etc, etc. I began to teach him about healthy diet, organic fruits and vegetables, and the dangers that pesticides bring to children's health when he was about 3 years old. I even taught him the scientific names of fruits and vegetables he ate and some medicinal plants. He is such a fast learner that now his knowledge of science is far advanced of his age (he is now 5 yrs old) and he now knows the scientific names of at least 20 fruits and vegetables. Whenever I am not home, he always asked my wife where I was and whenever I come home he hugs me, tells me he missed me and then shows me his drawings and scribbles about me when I was away, all showing pure love and affection. He is such a lovable and intelligent kid who would undoubtedly be a valuable contributor to the society of the near future to which he belongs and which would be beyond my time.

When I think about David's future, and the future of all children, I feel sad and angry but at the same time, deeply motivated and hopeful.  I feel sad because I know that despite my best efforts to protect David from toxic chemicals, he is still exposed to a variety of pesticides and other toxics and all I could do is try to reduce that exposure.  There is hardly any person or any place on earth that is left uncontaminated and not poisoned to some degree. Children are the hardest hit. The health of children worldwide is worsening. The incidence rates of developmental abnormalities, asthma, diabetes, certain cancers and other diseases in children have increased. This has serious implications for the future wellbeing, not only of the children, but of the future society as a whole. Pesticides and other toxic contaminants in air, water, and food have emerged as important causal factors. I have personally studied and observed this unfortunate situation in my 38 years of work in the academe and in various communities in many countries as a medical professional. In banana plantation communities in Mindanao, in palm oil plantations in Malaysia, in a cashew plantation in India, in garbage dump communities in Manila and Cebu, and in many other areas, I have examined children harmed by pesticides and other toxic chemicals. In addition, having participated in many international meetings and negotiations pertaining to toxic chemicals and related issues at various international fora, my personal experiences were affirmed by information exchanges and discussions with numerous experts in toxic chemicals from various governments, international agencies, research and academic institutions, public interest groups and even from the chemical industry.

I feel angry because big business continue the irresponsible manufacture and use of highly hazardous pesticides and other toxics with the complicity of governments, international agencies, corrupt bureaucrats and prostituted scientists that promote or allow profiteering from toxic chemicals at the expense of health and environment, putting our children's future in serious jeopardy. Corporate interests and political expediency are the dominant considerations influencing regulatory decisions pertaining to pesticides and other toxic chemicals especially in Third World countries where socio-political circumstances are conducive for powerful corporations to exert influence and manipulate public policy.

These mixed feelings of sadness and anger, however, keeps me deeply motivated to continue fighting to eliminate or at least restrict, as many as possible, highly hazardous pesticides and other toxics and to continue supporting community struggles against corporate aggression in various forms.  People's resistance against corporate imposed unsustainable and toxic agriculture is increasing and offers hope and optimism. Biodiversity-based ecological agriculture and non-pesticide approaches are being practiced more widely by tens of thousands of farmers across Asia and other parts of the world. These farmers and their children not only lead healthier lives but have improved livelihoods. Landless peasants, consumers and other sectors are organizing themselves and coming together in broader coalitions to assert food sovereignty and to resist agrochemical TNCs. Indeed, the growing people's movement against imperialist imposition and for social liberation is a reason to be optimistic and to be hopeful that the future of poisoned children may not be so bleak after all. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Remembering Irene Fernandez

By Chela Vázquez

I met Irene Fernandez at a PAN International meeting in Penang, Malaysia at the end of 2007. It was my first meeting with the PAN global network and the reunion was remarkable for the array of social and environmental thinkers and activists gathered during three days and the boiling soup of ideas transforming into plans of action.

The PAN meeting brought together strong community leaders, and among the women leaders was Irene. In 2007, Irene was going through a lawsuit, then, in its 13th-year, that was brought against her for a report exposing human rights abuses and pesticide poisonings of agricultural migrant workers, particularly of women.  She had been sentenced to prison in 2003 and was on bail pending the decision of the High Court, which later acquitted her.

Again in 2012 Irene was investigated for sedition against the government for her interview to foreign reporters about the deplorable treatment and conditions of many foreign domestic workers in Malaysia. The headline of a newspaper article read “Irene fans the fire” in reference to her statements, which reflected her unequivocal stance in defense of migrant workers.

I worked with Irene and PAN colleagues in the documentation of PAN International’s Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on agrochemicals that was held in Bangalore, India in 2011. Our team put together evidence on the impact of highly hazardous pesticides on agricultural workers, farmers and rural communities worldwide. Needless to say, our meetings were lively. Endearing memories of Irene bring back her pointed questions and insistence for a connection to grassroots communities that our work intended to serve.

Irene's words still echo among us. She would say “ is fundamental that we address the human rights violations of migrant workers and rural communities affected by these toxic chemicals and the abuse with impunity by the corporations who manufacture these products…” 

Indeed Irene had the ability and determination to bring grassroots concerns into the public consciousness and to generate action. For over 25 years she worked with plantation workers and had facilitated for women agricultural workers to speak at international fora to provide first-hand accounts of the impact of pesticides on themselves and their families. Under her leadership, Tenaganita, which she served as director, published reports of acute poisonings in the oil palm plantations and waged an unrelenting campaign to convince companies to reduce and phase out toxic pesticides, particularly the herbicide paraquat. To this date, major oil palm plantations have begun to phase out this chemical.

People remember Irene in many ways. PAN AP staff remembers her as a motherly figure and adviser, for some she had a tough exterior with a soft inside, for others she was a dedicated and caring person. Many remember her as a fighter for the rights of the oppressed. For Saro Rengam, PAN AP’s director, Irene was her close friend and mentor. Saro said “Irene was instrumental in the early formation of PAN AP and from then on her influence was felt in the development of all our programmes.

Irene was involved with PAN AP since 1990 and served as its chair until the end. She chaired PAN AP’s steering council meeting barely three days before she had a massive heart attack and was hospitalized.

I will remember Irene as a fearless human rights advocate faithful to her convictions until the end. At her eulogy, her daughter Katrina remembered Irene’s words: Be clear on what you want, claim your space and use it responsibly.  Irene used her space quite well.