Thursday 27 December 2012

Part 2: Pesticides; Chapter 2: Benin

Benin is a West African nation. It’s sandwiched between Nigeria in the east and Togo in the west. It’s highly dependent on cotton—the crop accounts for 40% of the country’s GDP. It’s no surprise, then, that many Beninese are involved in cotton production.

Modachirou Inoussa is a young Beninese. Although he’s only eight years old, he’s already helping his parents in the cotton fields. One day, Modachirou runs back to his home, feeling thirsty. Finding nothing to drink, he sets off to look for his parents. Along the way, he finds an empty container. He picks it up, scoops some water, and has a drink. Modachirou does not return home that evening. A search party later finds his body next to a pesticide container—the same container used to quench his thirst.

Issaka is another Beninese. He’s an adult with four children, aged between six and eight. One August day, Issaka treats his cotton field with pesticide. After a hard day’s work, he returns to his home. He then does a curious thing: he leaves his work clothes on the roof. His action suggests that he’s aware of the dangers of pesticides—he’s keeping his “poisonous clothing” away from his children. Alas, Issaka’s precautionary measure fails him. It rains that night; and the water passes through his clothes and drips into his household vessels. The next day, his children drink from the vessels. Several minutes later, they begin to experience headaches, nausea and convulsions. They are urgently sent to a health centre where they are treated with Diazepam, glucose serum and oxygen. The treatment is, however, ineffective. All four of the children pass away within the next 20 hours.

What you’ve just read are true stories. They’re heartbreaking. And they’re not confined to Benin. Moreover, such poisoning-related deaths affect not only children but also adults. Every year, up to 77 million cotton workers suffer from pesticide poisoning—and thousands eventually die.

Will you not do something to help?

Note: You can learn more about the situation in Benin by watching these videos:

Friday 14 December 2012

Part 2: Pesticides; Chapter 1: Pesticides 101

99% of the world’s cotton is conventionally grown. This fact has serious implications for you and for me.

You see, conventional cotton farming allows the use of synthetic agrochemicals, some of which are very harmful. This post is about pesticides, a type of agrochemical.

Pesticides are substances used for destroying insects or other organisms harmful to cotton. There are three major pesticide classes: Insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. You will note that all these words end with the letters “cides”. Whenever a word ends with these five letters, that particular word is connected with killing. Sure enough, insecticides kill insects, herbicides kill weeds, and fungicides kill spores.

Is there a problem with the killing? Well, there isn’t any if the chemicals kill only pests. Unfortunately, they don’t.

Check out the protective gear: Pesticides are harmful

They can kill humans: A single drop of aldicarb, the second most-used insecticide in global cotton production, is enough to kill an adult.

And they can kill in more ways than one. For example, the improper disposal of unused or expired pesticides and the use of empty pesticide containers for other purposes (e.g. drinking) have caused the deaths of humans, including children.

In short, pesticides are dangerous. Yet they are being used excessively. Cotton occupies only about 2.5% of the world’s farmland but is responsible for the release of 16% of the world’s insecticides—far more than any other single crop. In 2010 alone, more than 3 billion US dollars worth of pesticides were used on conventional cotton. What’s shocking about these chemical applications is that nearly half of them (in value terms) are toxic enough to be classified as hazardous by the World Health Organisation. These facts have earned cotton the epithet “the world’s dirtiest crop”.

Sadly, there’s a big human cost to pesticide use. Every year, up to 77 million cotton workers suffer from pesticide poisoning; some eventually perish.

In our next post, we will tell you a couple of stories that took place in a country called Benin. They’re tragic. And they will make you think long and hard about pesticides. 

Thursday 6 December 2012

Part 1: GMOs, Chapter 3: Hope

India is facing a suicide crisis. The circumstances are dark. Yet no situation is ever hopeless. As someone has said, “out of difficulties grow miracles.”

Hope by Radu Dan
A number of non-governmental organisations, both local and foreign, are taking steps to address the crisis. Their solution: Organic cotton farming.

Organic farming is often badly misunderstood. It’s not a throwback to the good old days, doing things our grandfather’s way. Granted, it’s similar in some respects to traditional farming. For example, organic farming strictly prohibits the use of genetically modified seeds and synthetic agrochemicals, both relatively recent inventions. Despite the similarities, there are substantial differences. Organic farming is knowledge-intensive and supported by current and solid science. To maximise crop quality and yield, organic farmers have to understand issues like soil fertility and insect life. So the NGOs are transferring organic agriculture know-what and know-how to the Indian farming community.

With zero GMOs and agrochemicals, organic cotton farming can help save lives. What’s more, it can give farmers a better quality of life.

But the NGOs can’t achieve their objectives alone. We have to “help” them. You see, someone’s got to buy the organic cotton produced by the farmers. That’s us consumers. In fact, the more we buy, the more farmers the NGOs can persuade to switch to organic farming. 

We’re nearing the end of the year. For some of us, it’s time to make New Year’s resolutions. We hope that buying and wearing organic cotton clothing will be one of your goals for 2013.

The environmentalist Anna LappĂ© is spot on: “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.”

So what kind of world do you want? Will you give hope to the farmers of India in 2013?