Pesticides are good for agriculture, but they are not good for people. Especially those from the Global South

Luc Williams

Foundation Heinrich Böll, the Living Earth Coalition and the Polish Ecological Club in Krakow, the Municipal Circle in Gliwice published the report “Atlas of Pesticides. Facts about toxic substances in agriculture. One of the aspects in which they consider the issue of chemical plant protection is human rights.

An increase of 484 percent in 27 years

Every year, 385 million people around the world suffer from pesticide poisoning, of which 11,000 die. Of course, farmers are particularly vulnerable, but not only them. These substances move easily, ending up in water and food. Most pesticide poisoning victims live in the Global South because EU regulations do not reach them and health, safety and environmental regulations are weak. 60 percent of these 11,000 deaths mentioned above occur in India. 95 percent of these 385 million people mentioned above live in countries of the Global South.

The number of acute poisonings caused by these substances increases every year. In 1990, according to scientists' estimates, it was 25 million. The main reason is the intensification of the use of these agents – between 1990 and 2017, their use worldwide increased by 81%. Including in Asia – by 97%. In South America – by… 484 percent. To stop this rapid increase in poisoning cases, WHO and FAO have prepared frameworks and standards for the use of pesticides, but they are voluntary, so few people follow them.

Dangerous content under the abbreviation HHP

There are many studies indicating the relationship between exposure to pesticides and conditions such as childhood leukemia, Parkinson's disease, liver cancer, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, asthma, allergies, obesity, endocrine disorders, congenital defects, premature births and growth disorders. One of the leading pesticide producers, Bayer, has already lost many lawsuits and signed many settlements with people who accused it of causing their cancers. Specifically, it concluded 96,000 settlements for a total compensation amount of EUR 11.6 billion. Approximately 30,000 proceedings are still pending.

Among all existing pesticides, one group is particularly problematic – substances collectively known as HHP. This abbreviation stands for dangerous content – “highly dangerous pesticides”. FAO and WHO have identified eight criteria that distinguish them, including: cause sudden death, cause cancer or genetic defects or impair fertility. The official list of substances has not been published yet, but the Pesticide Action Network has done so and has been periodically updating this list since 2009. Substances referred to as HHP constitute 40%. pesticides used in Mali (data from 2018), 43 percent in Kenya (2018), 65 percent in four states of Nigeria (2021). They are also widely used in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Solutions exist, but a global legal framework is missing

The use of HHP is currently the default method of protecting agricultural products against threats from living organisms in the Global South. This belief is being tried to change with the help of local agroecological programs that show that switching to sustainable agriculture is a real alternative. There are solutions that could be implemented now – the authors of the report mention biopesticides, as well as biological plant protection products and ecological and agrotechnical tools.

However, the tragedy of those parts of the world where HHP is widely used is the lack of a globally binding legal framework regulating the pesticide market. Already in 2006, FAO recommended the gradual introduction of a ban on the use of all HHPs. The UN initiated SAICM – Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management, whose task is to develop safer proposals for plant protection products. However, the legal force that would reduce the use of HHP in the Global South does not yet exist.


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