Since 1998 December 3rd has been designated the Global “No Pesticides Use Day” to commemorate what many consider the worst chemical disaster in the history of humankind–Bhopal. On December 3rd, 1984 a chemical factory owned by Union Carbide (since bought out by Dow Chemical) began leaking poison gas which led to 500,000 injuries and more than 20,000 deaths in the ensuing years.
The international campaigning organization Pesticide Action Network was the first to designate December 3rd the Global “No Pesticides Use Day.” According to Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PANAP), an estimated 50 million people work in plantations in developing countries and an additional 500 million in other forms of agriculture, including as seasonal workers. Many of these people who work in agriculture are exposed daily to toxic agrochemicals. And, many others who live near agricultural land are indirectly exposed to harmful chemicals through the air, contaminated water and soil, and in their food.
This December 3rd, activists and civil society groups around the world organized actions to call attention to the harmful affects of agrochemicals. In Paraguay, where roundup ready soy is converting the country into what many call a “green desert” activists held a protest targeting U.S. agribusiness Cargill for their role in the expansion of this crop. Paraguay is now the fourth largest exporter of soybeans in the world. Click here to read the statement put out by the organizers of the Paraguay protests.
Minnesota-based grain giant Cargill is the main player leading Paraguay into the global soybean boom. Cargill initially entered Paraguay in 1978 to import hybrid seeds, and only began crushing soybeans in the country in 1991. It now owns the largest soybean plant in Paraguay, and has a network of 40 grain elevators and port facilities. Cargill is Paraguay’s number one exporter.
Roundup Ready soy, brought to you by Monsanto, is genetically modified to withstand massive amounts of the herbicide roundup. Soy cultivation in Paraguay leads to the dumping of more than 24 million liters of agro-chemicals in Paraguay every year. And many of the chemicals used have been rated Class I and II moderately and extremely hazardous pesticides by the World Health Organization.
At protests this week, Paraguayan activists dressed up to illustrate just how destructive soy production and the accompanying pesticide use is on campesinos, Indigenous communities, and the environment. They were specifically targeting Cargill because of the company’s plans to build a mega-port in the capital Asuncion. This port will be situated just 500 meters upstream from the intake of the public water utility that is responsible for getting clean drinking water to the over one million people that live in the city.
Civil society groups, environmentalists, social justice and health activists have been protesting the proposed Cargill port. They are concerned that the facility will contaminate the water with pesticide runoff from the soy, and will prevent people from having access to clean drinking water. This week, RAN sent out an email action alert to our supporters asking them to sign a petition demanding that the Cargill port not be built. Our rainforest agribusiness campaign is working in solidarity with frontline community members and NGO allies in Paraguay to amplify their demands as we challenge U.S. agribusiness giants like ADM, Bunge, and Cargill.
Last month, RAN hosted a delegation of Indigenous and campesino leaders, and activists from communities on the frontline of palm and soy expansion. Campesino leader Francisco Avalos from San Pedro, Paraguay spoke powerfully about the repression that campesinos face when trying to resist soy encroachment. He showed pictures of children who were sick due to exposure from agrochemicals, and of the settlements of landless people being burnt down by the State. He also showed pictures of struggle and resistance. When our delegation passed through Minneapolis, the headquarter city of Cargill our delegates decided to write a letter and hand it directly to the company officials. Below is a a portion of Francisco’s letter:
“After the sprayings and fumigations of the soy, we invite you to come with your children, for at least a couple of minutes, to share this air that we breathe. We are sure that you will not like this. And, you will surely never return there again. It is very tortuous to constantly smell the odor of pesticides.
We passionately reject the presence of Cargill in our country because they are in no way contributing to improving the quality of life of our people. We demand that you leave our country. “
I wonder if any of the Cargill executives are interested in taking Francisco up on his offer “to share this air that we breath.” Perhaps, a better option would be for Cargill to stop the massive expansion of soy throughout South America, and control and regulate the indiscriminate use of toxic agrochemicals in their operations.