Pesticides are still widely used in today’s agricultural systems all over the world. Hundreds of millions of people, especially farmers and agricultural workers, are exposed to pesticides and suffer acute and chronic effects every year. Chronic effects of pesticide exposure include damage to the brain and nervous system, cancer, reproductive health problems, birth defects, miscarriage or stillbirth; kidney damage; neuro-behavioural deficits in children; and hormonal disruption and damage to the immune system. An estimated 50 million people work in plantations in developing countries and an additional 500 million in other forms of agricultural, including as seasonal workers. Many others are exposed indirectly through contamination of food, water, household dust, etc. Many of the pesticides people in developing countries are exposed to are often banned or severely restricted in other countries. Peasant farmers and agricultural workers are often the poorest; with the lowest income, frequently illiterate and continuously marginalised. Their problems and issues are systematically downplayed and they are excluded from regulatory decision making processes.
Pesticides have also been linked to EDC (Endocrine Disruptors Chemical). Endocrine disrupting pesticides have raised alarms in recent times as these can particularly affect unborn babies: effecting growth and formation, and functional deficiencies like lowered IQ levels, susceptibility to disease, behavioural problems, and effect future fertility. The heart wrenching recent reports from Kerala, India are an insidious testimony to this. PAN AP’s own research show babies born with deformities, children living with a multitude of disabilities both physical and mental. The villagers are dying of cancers, and developmental and reproductive problems caused by endosulfan, aerially sprayed in cashew plantations.
Pesticides commonly used also affect non-target insects and animals. This often leads to a loss of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity, including long-term effects e.g. through endocrine disrupting effects on birds, fish, mammals, and turtles. Besides killing off beneficial insects—vitally important as natural predators to pests, as pollinators, and as food producers (e.g. bees and honey)—highly toxic pesticides have immediate adverse effects on eco-systems that provide food, and plant and animal biodiversity.
Pesticides prevail because a multi-billion dollar industry is behind them, exerting great influence on international standard setting bodies, national governments, and local communities. The enormous influence that these chemical corporations wield, because of their economic power, is a major factor in why pesticides use persists in our agriculture in spite of the growing evidences of human poisonings and even deaths, devastating environmental contamination, and the evidences of greater yields which can be achieved when the chemicals are replaced by agroecological practices. Six pesticide companies (Syngenta, Bayer, Monsanto, BASF, Dow and Dupont) accounted for 70 percent of the global market, and the top 10 control 80 percent of global agrochemical sales. While the six companies dominate the market, there is also a growth of national pesticide industries in developing countries (India, Taiwan, China, South Korea, Mexico, Brazil).
PAN AP believes that pesticides use reduction and eradication is vital, and actions must be taken to deal with the structural forces and issues that perpetuate these problems. Efforts are also needed for policies to control, regulate, challenge, and invoke accountability from companies manufacturing and profiting from pesticides. Women and men working in the agricultural sector in developing countries make up 59 percent of the global working population, and for any strategy to work and truly bring about change it is they, the people, who have to be at the very core of our programme work.
Therefore, the programme is based on four complementing strategies: Community Empowerment through Community-based Pesticide Action Monitoring (CPAM), Policy Research and Advocacy, Campaigns on Target Pesticides and Companies, and Institutional and Alliance Building.