Monday, July 21, 2008

Fewer Pesticides = Fewer Suicides

A story came out from the German Press Agency (DPA) this week discussing yet another benefit of reducing pesticide use: decreasing suicide rates!

India has been experiencing increasing numbers of farmer suicides in the last decade or so as a consequence of its Green Revolution (a US 'encouraged' movement in the late 1960s to increase crop yields through the development of greater yielding plant varieties) and the resulting structural adjustment policies of the World Bank in 1998, forcing farmers into increased use of input-intensive, single-season crops. Mounting debt due to investment in the expensive chemical inputs (pesticides, fertilizers, etc.) required to grow demanding hybrid seeds have resulted in more than 100,000 government-acknowledged cases of desperate farmers “drinking the same pesticides that created their liabilities”. Not only have these ‘advanced’ technologies racked up impressive debts for farmers in India, they have substantially lowered both water tables and land fertility, furthering the difficulty of survival for the some 600 million Indians who depend on agricultural activities for their livelihood.

But there’s hope! Programs helping farmers return to traditional and organic farming are proving to be successful in lowering suicide rates by bringing in higher yields and incomes. By returning to local pest management techniques and the tradition of saving and trading seeds (saving money on chemical pesticides and GM seeds) farmers have been able to begin pulling themselves out of debt and recovering mortgaged land. The reach of these programs is increasing as the price of chemical pesticides goes up with the price of oil. Vandana Shiva, creator of the founding organization of India’s current organic movement, Navdanya, is confident that “When chemical farming has led to a total collapse, traditional and organic farming is the solution, the way of the future.”

As the price of oil continues to rise, it will be interesting to see its effects on the use of petroleum-based, chemical pesticides and fertilizers in farming around the world. If it can change the way we drive, why not the way we farm? Sustainable agriculture advocates and the like: lets take advantage of this new incentive for organic or pesticide-free agriculture, and act to encourage and support farmers in making the change.

Friday, July 18, 2008

5 great years!

This week Billie Karel celebrates 5 years on the staff of Toxic Free NC.

As our Program Coordinator, Billie has developed outstanding Volunteer and Community Organizing programs, built our beautiful website, coordinates the Board Development Committee and our new Leadership Committee, keeps everyone in the loop with Action Alerts, and does a million other things to make Toxic Free NC successful. Billie also sings and dances and is generally just fun to be around. That’s why we’ve decided that today is Billie Karel Appreciation Day at Toxic Free NC.

We hope you'll join us in celebrating Billie Karel Appreciation Day today. Together with all our friends, colleauges and supporters, Billie's work is helping us all acheive just & sustainable agriculture, and a toxic-free future for our children in North Carolina.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A challenging victory

This week the NC Legislature passed a small but important piece of legislation to improve the lives of farmworkers who work in North Carolina's fields.

S 847, "Prevent Agricultural Pesticide Exposure," will not prevent agricultural pesticide exposure. However, it will grant a very basic form of workplace dignity to farmworkers: the right to report safety problems on the job without the threat of being fired, demoted or otherwise punished for doing so. Farmworkers who are punished for reporting pesticide safety concerns will have the right to file a complaint with the NC Department of Labor under REDA, the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act, and to win their job or lost wages back.

This legislation also directs the NC Pesticide Board to create new rules that improve how agricultural employers keep records when they use pesticides and workers are present. This step is intended to make enforcement of violations easier for the NC Department of Agriculture, and to eliminate the "he-said-she-said" nature of their enforcement cases now.

This is important legislation, and those who worked to pass it should be proud (particularly Rep. Dan Blue, Sen. Charlie Albertson, Health Director Leah Devlin and Governor Easley). But they also shouldn't be lulled into thinking that farmworkers and their families are now safe from harmful exposure to pesticides, or that a disastrous incident like what has been alleged in the Ag-Mart case couldn't happen again.

Toxic Free NC and our allies in the Farmworker Advocacy Network (FAN) have spent years researching workplace pesticide exposure, talking with farmworkers about their experiences, and examining programs in other states. Only one of our long list of recommendations - retaliation protection - made it into S 847 (read more about FAN's recommendations here).

One of the greatest challenges that we face in advocating for and with farmworkers is actually the democratic process, which is designed to ensure that every citizen gets a vote and a voice. Unfortunately, most of the people who labor to plant, tend and harvest our food in the United States are not citizens, and don't get a vote -- or a voice. No elected official in NC is accountable to farmworkers, except perhaps in a moral sense.

Elected officials don't have to listen to farmworkers - even if they could speak to them - but they do have to listen to their constituents, and they especially listen to the lobby groups and business interests - like the Farm Bureau - who are constantly in their offices demanding specific outcomes.

Many, many citizens joined Toxic Free NC and our FAN partners in advocating for worker protection, both before and during the legislative session. Despite all that, we did not get the best possible legislation for farmworkers. We got the best possible legislation in an environment dominated by business interests.

In the future, we can work harder, we can speak louder, and we can recruit more citizens to call on the moral values of our elected officials. We should and we must continue to work for a just and sustainable future for our state, its workers and its residents. To do that, we must also work for the restoration of integrity to our democratic process, to diminish the power of private profit to act as gatekeeper for our health and safety.

What you can do: