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Pesticides Endanger the Health of Ecosystems and the Livelihoods of Rural Communities
by Chela Vázquez
Feature Story
Saturday, August 31, 2013 - 16:45

"Pesticides, and particularly the systemic neonicotinoid insecticides, are causing havoc with natural and agricultural ecosystems" declares scientist Meriel Watts on the eve of the Congress of Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PAN AP) in Penang, Malaysia.

PAN AP has reasons to be concerned about the implications of agro-ecosystem collapse and how it would affect its partners in rural communities, which include small farmers, agricultural workers, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, Dalits, fisherfolks, and women.

"The livelihoods of millions of people in the Asia Pacific depend on agro-diverse farming systems where pollinators and other species play an important role" said Sarojeni Rengam, executive director of PAN AP. She adds "pesticides are known to cause environmental harm and have been linked to the decline of beneficial insects, such as bees."

The PAN convening in Penang, Malaysia on September 2-4 will discuss matters relevant to its constituency and the environment is high in the agenda. Farmers and rural communities understand first hand how the environment is intimately linked to their health and livelihoods.

Toxicologist Dr. Romy Quijano from PAN Philippines says, "farmers and rural communities are bearing the brunt of the health impact from toxic pesticides. It is daunting to imagine how much more they will have to endure when the environment they depend on for their livelihoods is crippled."

The massive death of bees reported in Europe, the United States, and Latin America and the subsequent forecast on food crops has not gone unnoticed in the Asia Pacific. For instance, almond orchards in California, USA depend on about 1.6 million bees to pollinate their flowers and this year almond growers were forced to organize a nationwide drive to gather healthy bee colonies for their orchards. Whether they would be able to gather enough bees next year remains uncertain. The United States and Europe have experienced annual hive losses of 30% and higher. This past winter in the U.S. hive losses were 40-50% and higher.

According to an article in The Beekeepers Quarterly at least a million bee colonies have disappeared in France, 4 million in USA, 3 million in Argentina, and hundreds of thousands more in other countries. Neonicotinoids (neonics), a class of pesticides, have been implicated in the death of bees. However, many other insecticides are also toxic to bees such as fipronil, chlorpyrifos, cypermethrin and deltamethrin.

While agrochemical companies and mainstream national and international agricultural research centers recommend that pesticides be used to produce our food, populations of bees, wasps, beetles, birds, butterflies, frogs, toads, salamanders and lizards are all collapsing. For instance, a group of scientists from Germany and Australia found a 42% loss of species in streams at concentrations of pesticides that current legislation considers to be environmentally protective. Also, fish reared in experimental rice paddy treated with imidacloprid (a neonic pesticide) had far more parasites than those reared in non-treated paddy.

Another study conducted in the Netherlands showed that some of the water leaving horticultural areas was so heavily contaminated with pesticides that it could be used to treat lice. The same study shows that even at much lower concentrations - no greater than the limits set by the European Union - the neonicotinoids entering river systems wiped out half the invertebrate species you would expect to find in the water.

Over 50 years have passed since Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring described the decline of wildlife, and the health and environmental impacts caused by toxic pesticides. Yet, the planet continues to be under the threat of hazardous chemicals used in agriculture.

"PAN AP will continue to work with grassroots communities to raise awareness on the dangers of highly hazardous pesticides and to campaign for safer alternatives that provide a dignified living to farmers, rural communities and healthy food for all," says PAN AP Steering Council Chairperson Dr. Irene Fernandez.

(For additional information about the PAN AP Congress and its work on pesticides and sustainable food production, please contact Vasentha Sampasivam at vasentha.sampasivam@panap.net)

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