Costa Rica: the country that turns its back on the consequences of pineapple cultivation

The following comment was received from DELFINO.CR in Costa Rica on 23rd January 2019. It may now be a little out-of-date but its subject typifies the attitude of the Costa Rican government to the dangers of mono-cultivation and over-use of pesticides over the last two decades. Beware the country that internationally paints itself so green whilst at the same time turning a blind eye to the contamination and health risks it creates through its pineapple mono-cultivation.

Key words: Costa Rica; pineapple cultivation; pesticides (bromacil); water source contamination.

Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court ordered six institutions to initiate the clean-up of six water sources which supply residents of Río Cuarto de Alajuela and which were contaminated with the herbicide bromacil. It has been established that all of these institutions knew of the existence of complaints about pollution risks for various water sources in the affected communities and, well, they did nothing.

The declaration was made as a result of a protective measure imposed by the Associations of Aqueducts and Sewers of Santa Rita, La Tabla and Santa Isabel de Río Cuarto de Alajuela which published the following communication:

“The Magistrates declared with reference to the resource that for years the institutions involved – the Costa Rican Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers, the Administrative Environmental Court, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Environment and Energy, the Fitosanitary Service of State and the Ministry of Agriculture and Cattle Ranching – knew of the existence of complaints about the pollution risks in diverse springs in the affected communities, but despite that, they failed to comply with their obligation which was to coordinate the environmental action between the institutions and to exercise the precautionary principle necessary for this type of problem. What happened in this crisis of drinkable water was contamination by agro-chemicals in the Brenes, Nicrodal, La Flor del Acueducto de Santa Rita, la Flor del Acueducto de Santa Isabel, La Culebra and Nicolás Rodríguez springs.”

  • As a result of this, the listed institutions must immediately begin the process of cleansing and eliminating agro-chemical residues from the water sources which supply the communities of Santa Rita, La Tabla and Santa Isabel de Río Cuarto de Alajuela; it is well known that in the past these were contaminated with bromacil, but nobody did anything about it.
  • Pineapple plantations, pineapple plantations, pineapple plantations, and again! And the State looks away – again. Because as if the medicine hadn’t already been bitter enough to swallow, the day has come when the new edition of the ‘Cards on the Table’ programme, in which this time RT International decided to test the water and to remind us of the very high price that the country pays for its exports of pineapples.
  • The programme, which is in the round table dialogue style, includes the presence of a UNDP official in sustainable development and resilience, Kifah Sasa, environmentalist Mauricio Álvarez of the Ecologist Federation of Costa Rica, and the environmental lawyer and legislative advisor, Sofia Barquero. They discussed the consequences of the billions of dollars which enter the country from the cultivation of pineapples. These are consequences which everyone talks about but which we ignore, preferring to look in the other direction.
  • According to the UNDP data provided by Sasa, Costa Rica produces 50% of the fresh pineapple consumed in North America and 50% of that consumed in Europe. What makes it so attractive for the consumer is that what we produce is sweet enough for it to be marketed elsewhere. Twenty years ago, we used to split our tongues eating pineapples. Well now with our pineapples that doesn’t happen and it has become an export of preference. What happens is that now these consequences aren’t felt by our tongues but in the environmental impacts and the denunciations against bad labour practices which are associated with this cultivation.
  • “In Costa Rica the pineapple plantation which becomes the norm is the exception,” said Sofía Barquero in a warning that couldn’t be sharper: namely that by putting 58,000 hectares under pineapple production, we are trampling the environment underfoot. As well as the denunciations about bromacil and multiple pollutants associated with this mono-cultivation, we can add that last year the UNDP reported that between the years 2000 and 2015, 5,565.9 hectares of forest cover were lost to pineapple production, to which we should add the erosion of soil, the loss of cattle through the pineapple fly and the non-compliance with labour laws, already well-known.
  • In fact, a denunciation has been made this very week on the Twitter account of the Executive President of INAMU and the Ministry of the Condition of Women, Patricia Mora, which announces that: “The situation of women in many of the mono-cultivation plantations of our country (pineapple, banana, yucca and melon plantations) is one of absolute disrespect of their labour rights. Since I have been in the National Institute of Women, INAMU has held meetings with women workers in this sector who have presented me with their denunciations and looked for support in defence of their rights.”
  • Right at the beginning of this year we can tell you of the denunciations made by the workers of the Bellavista Packers on the northern border, who told us that they had been sacked for having been affiliated to the union, and that they had even been obliged to sign work agreements which RT International made known when it reported on pineapple cultivation in this green and democratic country.
  • According to UNDP data, a high percentage of the country’s pineapple plantation production is controlled by 40 large companies with enormous names such as Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte which are supposedly the easiest to control because of the power behind their name.
  • There are, however, the others, the small ones of which there are more than 1,400 and which are the most polluting and which fail to address denunciations. Those companies then sell to the large companies which in their turn can wash their hands of the responsibility, declaring that it is small ones that are guilty because they are the ones that don’t have the necessary technology to ensure that their agro-chemicals don’t contaminate the soil or that can’t pay appropriate wages, etc, etc.. And so, once again, they all wash their hands and turn their heads away.
  • This is ‘the price of the sweet fruits’, as the title of the German DW described it last year in its report on our country’s pineapple production. The report indicated that in Germany each fruit costs between 1 and 3 euros (between 700 and 2,000 colones) giving a total of 1 billion dollars that reach the state but not the wages of the workers, nor the cleanness of the rivers contaminated with bromacil. That is the issue that we must begin to see, without looking the other way, thereby genuinely calculating the true cost of the 2 million tonnes that we export every year.

“To grow organic is to think different”

The case studies involved in this report and the video link with it come from the Banana Trade Blog produced by Banana Link. The case studies are not from Central America (which is the region of concern for this website), but the issue of organic production of bananas and other tropical produce is of considerable interest to all the producers of such fruits within the region of Central America, especially in the light of increasing resistance of pests to the use of chemical pesticides – and here we refer the reader to the timely article in Media Nature that warns of the most recent banana epidemic to reach the Americas – the article is included here in this month’s updates to The Violence of Development website. So the conclusions to be drawn from the Banana Link blog article and video are certainly of relevance to Central America.We are grateful to Paul Lievens and to Banana Link for permission to reproduce the article in this website.

26 July 2019
By Paul Lievens  – comms@bananalink.org.uk
Banana Link Communications & Policy Officer


There is a growing recognition in the global export banana trade that the prevailing intensive monoculture production model is not sustainable, and that the development alternative production models is a pressing necessity. There is a limited shelf life for a production model that, through increasing reliance on agrochemicals, creates negative impacts on human health and the environment, while also making the predominant export cultivar, the Cavendish, increasingly vulnerable to disease.
 
There are, in some parts of the banana producing world, producers, both big and small, who are pioneering viable alternative production models. Production that utilises integrated pest management (IPM) principles, that employs polyculture or intercropping practices, along with those employing wholly organic methods.
 
As a contribution to the debate, Banana Link is working within the World Banana Forum’s Working Group on Sustainable Production Systems and Environmental Impact to produce a series of case studies documenting viable alternative production methods. 
 
The first of these case studies has just been published. It takes a look at the successful development of organic banana production by Compagnie Fruitière, primarily at its subsidiary Golden Exotics Limited in Ghana (500 ha), and to a lesser extent at SCB in Côte d’Ivoire (100 ha) and Finca la Valentina in Ecuador (150 ha).
 
We have produced this case study, as we also intend with elements of subsequent case studies, in video format, which you can view at the foot of this article. The video isn’t intended to rehearse the arguments in favour of organic production. I don’t think anyone would argue with the reduction in the negative impact on human health, the environment and ecosystems that results from switching from chemically reliant to organic production. But what people do want to know is whether organic production is viable, sustainable and profitable, and if so, how it is achieved.
 
So, in the video we take a look at the technical challenges of organic production, including management of pests, diseases and water resources, and the impact of climate change. In Ghana, the dry, and drying, climate is admittedly more favourable to organic production. For example, the leaf fungus Black sigatoka thrives better in more humid conditions, while nematode pests aren’t present in Ghana. Not that this has deterred Compagnie Fruitière from developing organic production in the more challenging humid climate of Ecuador.
 
By utilising organic fertilisers, biological and mechanical control of pests, and cover crops to maintain soil fertility and retain water, the French fruit producer has been able to successfully develop organic production over the last four years and is planning to double that production significantly in the coming years.
 
And the bottom line, from a commercial perspective, is that organic production is, in this case, more profitable than conventional chemically reliant production. While there are increased labour costs, for example for manual weeding, the increased price at which organic bananas are sold in a growing European market for organic bananas means they are better able to cover the costs of production. But we won’t spoil the video by repeating here their comparative figures for labour costs, fertilisation, yields and margins between conventional and organic. We’ll leave you to watch the video yourself.
 
As Golden Exotics’ Director of Operations, Johan Glo, says at the conclusion of the video, “To grow organic is to think different”.

The video can be viewed at:

The text and video are also available in Spanish too:

http://bananalink.org.uk/es/%E2%80%9Ccultivar-productos-org%C3%A1nicos-significa-pensar-de-manera-diferente%E2%80%9D-0 If you would be interested in supporting this work, or would like to know more, please contact Paul Lievens at comms@bananalink.org.uk

Copyright © 2019 Banana Link, All rights reserved.

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Alarm as devastating banana fungus reaches the Americas

The region produces most of the world’s banana exports — and the fungus affects the most popular commercial variety.

Jonathan Lambert

19 August 2019

Reproduced from Nature Briefing

A worker at a multi-national banana company selects bananas for export in Uraba, Colombia. [Credit: Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty]

A banana-killing fungus that has been laying waste to crops in Asia and Australia for decades is now in the Americas, which produce the majority of the world’s banana exports.

Colombia declared a national emergency on 8 August after laboratory results confirmed the presence of the fungus, known as Fusarium wilt tropical race 4 (TR4), within its borders. This marks the first confirmation of TR4 in the Americas. The Colombia Agricultural Institute (ICA), a federal agency tasked with overseeing agricultural health in the country, says that about 175 hectares have been affected so far.

Officials quarantined four farms on the Guajira Peninsula in the northern part of the country in June, when they first suspected that TR4 was killing banana plants in the region. But scientists now fear that the fungus has spread beyond the containment zone and could threaten banana production in the Americas for decades to come.

TR4 infects several varieties of banana and plantain, but is particularly harmful to the Cavendish, which is the main variety sold in grocery stores and accounts for the lion’s share of international exports. [Credit medianature.com]

“These epidemics develop slowly, so the [spread] will take some time,” says Randy Ploetz, a plant pathologist at the University of Florida in Homestead. “But eventually, it will not be possible to produce Cavendish for international trade.”

The TR4 strain — which started destroying Cavendish crops in Asia in the 1990s, then spread to Australia and, later, Africa — infects banana plants through the roots and spreads throughout the vascular system, starving the plant of water and nutrients. The fungus can be transmitted by moving infected plants from one area to another, or through water and soil.

It can’t be controlled with fungicides, so the main way of dealing with TR4 is to try to stop it spreading (see ‘In the Americas’). The ICA says that it has eradicated most of the plants from infected fields, but TR4 can linger in the soil for roughly 30 years.

“Soil is very difficult to contain,” says Fernando García-Bastidas, a plant pathologist at KeyGene in Wageningen, the Netherlands, who led the TR4 testing effort on the Colombian samples. “Who knows how many cars and people have entered that farm and carried

[the fungus]

elsewhere?” Containment efforts can slow the fungus’s spread, and Colombia is doing all it can, says García-Bastidas, but once TR4 arrives somewhere, it’s almost impossible to eradicate.

Nature | The Springer Nature Campus, 4 Crinan Street, London, N1 9XW, United Kingdom

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© 2019 Springer Nature Limited. All rights reserved

Historic moment in Costa Rican labour history

By Bert Schouwenburg

We are grateful to Bert Schouwenburg and to Banana Link for permission to reproduce this article. It was first published in The Morning Star who did not reply to our request for permission to reproduce the article. It was later produced in the first edition of the Banana Trade Blog which is produced by Banana Link (www.bananalink.org.uk )

Trade Union leaders are no stranger to hyperbole but when public sector union, ANEP’s General Secretary, Albino Vargas told delegates at the annual general assembly of SITRAP  (Agricultural Plantation Workers Union) that the event came at a historic moment in Costa Rica’s labour history, he was not exaggerating.

The assembly was held on January 20th [2019] in the heart of Limón’s banana growing zone at the Pococí Expo Centre in Guápiles. The 700 SITRAP members and their families were bussed in from all over the region during an operation that, for some, commenced at 3.30am to ensure that everyone was present for breakfast and an 8am start. Previous assemblies had been held at a much smaller venue in Siquirres where SITRAP have their premises, and before that in the main hall of their building itself when active membership of the union was at its lowest ebb.

GMB’s relationship with SITRAP began in 2003 under the auspices of NGO Banana Link’s ‘Union to Union’ programme aimed at establishing direct links with workers in Latin America’s tropical fruit plantations. SITRAP was in dire straits, its membership decimated by a sophisticated and ruthless campaign, headed up by the Costa Rican government, to drive trade unions out of the banana industry altogether. In the early 1980s, the then powerful unions’ fight for better working conditions prompted the employers to close down all their farms on the Pacific coast and throw thousands of people out of work. In a sustained propaganda exercise the closures of what were uneconomic plantations was blamed on trade union militancy and intransigence.

To this day, criticising the unions for the Pacific coast closures is an integral part of the banana producers’ strategy to dissuade workers from forming and joining them. Aided and abetted by the San José dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church, who have described them as being the work of the devil, they have spread the doctrine of ‘Solidarismo’, a concept enshrined in Costa Rican law whereby workers are encouraged to elect representatives to ‘permanent committees’ who then conclude ‘direct agreements’ with management to the exclusion of independent trade unions. Needless to say, these agreements are presented to the committees on a take it or leave it basis with no room for negotiation. Solidarista associations have been formed throughout the length and breadth of not just the banana industry but also in plantations growing pineapples of which Costa Rica is the world’s number one exporter. Where union organisation appears, workers are harassed, intimidated and, if they do not renounce their membership, are sacked and blacklisted.

One of GMB’s first initiatives was to raise funds so that SITRAP could complete much needed renovations to their building in Siquirres, a successful project that led to the assembly hall being dedicated to the late Brian Weller, a much-loved activist from London, in whose name the money was collected. This was followed by a memorandum of understanding between the unions and a two year funding agreement that kept SITRAP afloat and gave them breathing space to build their organisational capacity in an extremely hostile environment.

Slowly, but incrementally, SITRAP built its membership base in hostile multinational company farms belonging to Chiquita, Del Monte and Dole and also in plantations owned by vehemently anti-union national companies such as the Acon Group who made sure that the union could not make the sufficient inroads needed in order to reach the density required to trigger recognition, by sacking members under any pretext. However, a significant breakthrough occurred in January, 2016 when, after an 18 year struggle, the Labour Reform Process Law was put onto the statute book. This landmark piece of legislation dramatically speeded up the glacial pace of Costa Rica’s labour code and enabled workers to bring claims of unfair dismissal to court within days and empowered judges to order immediate reinstatement pending a full merits hearing. At a stroke, the legislation deprived employers’ ability to arbitrarily dismiss trade unionists at will, safe in the knowledge that cases brought against them could take years to be heard. Unsurprisingly, private sector employers are lobbying furiously to have the law overturned.

The cumulative effects of SITRAP’s continuing membership drive, the space afforded to it by the passing of the new law, and the pressure being brought to bear by motivated consumers in European markets allowed the union to make members to such an extent that, after 9 months of negotiation, it was able to sign a recognition agreement in a Del Monte plantation just before the assembly, the first such agreement to be concluded since the 1980s. It was this that prompted ANEP’s General Secretary to comment on the historic significance of the moment.

Banana production in Costa Rica, and elsewhere in Latin America, faces an uncertain future. The purchasing power of European and North American retailers has squeezed the margins of the multinational producers who are no longer the dominant force that they once were. The downward pressure on costs has been passed on to workers who find themselves the victims of a race to the bottom as producers react to the price wars of major supermarkets, particularly in the UK. The huge mono-crop plantations, drenched in pesticides, are environmentally disastrous and are prone to disease. So far, the deadly fusarium wilt virus has been kept at bay in Latin America but if it takes hold, that could be the beginning of the end for the industry as we know it and explains why serious thought is now being given to multi-cropping and diversification away from the ubiquitous Cavendish banana that is intensively farmed throughout.

For the thousands of workers in the Costa Rican banana industry, it is essential that they have a collective voice that can be heard, however the industry develops. SITRAP’s re-emergence as a significant player is therefore vitally important and they deserve the continued support of unions like GMB, and UNISON who have also given valuable assistance, especially as so much of the fruit their members produce finds its way into the UK’s fruit bowls.  

ANEP have produced the video report of the event below, which includes contributions from the General Secretary of SITRAP, Didier Leiton, Alistair Smith of Banana Link, and Bert Schouwenburg, who represented the GMB at the meeting.

700 agricultural workers attend historic SITRAP assembly from Banana Link on Vimeo.



Bert Schouwenburg
11 February 2019

Nicaraguan coffee farmers seek creative solutions to drought, climate change

by ZACH DYER, November 26, 2014

This story was originally published in The Tico Times. It is reproduced here by kind permission of The Tico Times. http://www.ticotimes.net/2014/11/26/nicaraguan-coffee-farmers-seek-creative-solutions-to-drought-climate-change

Key words: Coffee cultivation; coffee rust (roya); climate change; waste water management; river pollution

MATAGALPA, Nicaragua – Coffee drinkers in the United States reach for a warm cup of joe when the crisp autumn wind blows in November, but meanwhile, farmers in Nicaragua are looking at their coffee trees with trepidation.

The coffee harvest in Central America started in November but many farmers here have little to do. Drought ravaged much of Central America — especially Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras — earlier this year, and farmers are feeling its impact now. Fields that should be full of coffee pickers are empty. Mills that should be guzzling red coffee cherries by the basketful sit with their tanks nearly empty. Many farmers say the harvest could be four weeks late, at least.

A view of the upgraded wet mill at La Hermandad Cooperative in San Ramón, Matagalpa, Nicaragua, on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. (Zach Dyer/The Tico Times)

A late harvest doesn’t necessarily augur a small harvest, but it does mean farmers who rely on coffee as their main income will have to stretch their budgets for another month after several years of slim earnings. This year’s drought, attributed to the El Niño weather phenomenon, is the latest hurdle for Central American coffee farmers who have seen their crop yield dwindle because of the devastating leaf rust fungus known as roya.

Francisco Blandon, a coffee farmer in the steep green hills outside Yali, Jinotega, said that two years ago he noticed the rains were no longer reliable. “It was dry when it should’ve been wet, and wet when it was supposed to be dry,” he said. Blandon said that a lack of rainfall and lingering damage from roya cut his harvest by 70 percent, to 53 60-kilogram bags of green coffee during the 2013/2014 season, compared to 184 bags in a normal year.

Francisco Blandon balances the pH of coffee wastewater on his farm in Jinotega, Nicaragua, on Nov. 20, 2014. (Zach Dyer/The Tico Times)

Blandon isn’t alone in his assessment. Drought and increasingly unpredictable rain cycles are among the symptoms of climate change that scientists say are making coffee a risky investment for farmers on the isthmus. Amid these conditions, farmers and other stakeholders in the coffee business have begun to look for ways to reduce the caffeinated crop’s environmental impact with a special eye on water management. A series of pilot projects in Nicaragua funded by the Dutch government and the sustainable certification label UTZ Certified have seen positive results in reducing water consumption, treating wastewater and providing farmers with a clean burning fuel as a by-product. Coffee is Nicaragua’s most valuable agricultural export and employs thousands in the poor Central American country. Changing the way farmers process their coffee for market could have a significant impact on the quality of life and environment in many coffee-growing communities here.

Effluent from El Carmen wet mill before treatment in Diriamba, Nicaragua. The wastewater has an average pH of 4, the same as acid rain. (Zach Dyer/The Tico Times)

Regardless if the coffee is organic or not, wastewater from coffee processing plants has been cited as a major source of river pollution in Latin America. The red fruit must be cleaned off the coffee in a process called de-pulping before the beans ferment, dry and are milled for export. Traditional de-pulping wet mills use large amounts of freshwater to transport the fruit though various stages of the milling and fermentation process. After de-pulping, the water is a brown frothy sludge. Coffee wastewater has a typical pH of 4 — the same as acid rain— compared to a neutral pH of 7 for pure water, as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Farmers and processing plants would traditionally dump their coffee wastewater straight into streams without any treatment. The organic matter in the effluent encourages bacterial growth that pulls oxygen out of streams and lakes, suffocating fish and other marine life. A report from the Guatemalan Instituto Centroamericano de Investigación y Tecnología Industrial estimated that the processing of 547,000 tons of coffee during a six-month period in 1988 created the water pollution equivalent of the raw sewage from a city of four million people.

Blandon said that people downstream of his coffee farm would complain of stomach pains and irritated skin after drinking or bathing with water from the stream during the harvest.

Rigoberto Mendoza, another farmer outside Yali, has been farming coffee for 30 years. “Before, I didn’t understand the impact I was having on other people. I was harming them and others were harming me,” Duartes said, wearing a cowboy hat as he looked downhill from his farm.

Both Blandon and Mendoza were selected among the first 19 UTZ pilot programmes here that started rolling out in Nicaragua in 2010. Water savings are achieved by recycling water up to three times through the mill before the discharge is sent to a septic tank where the large solids are filtered out and the remaining fluid passes on to a bio-digester. There, the effluent mixes with manure and bacteria breaks down the organic matter from the coffee, producing methane gas that is captured and stored for use later. Filters in the digester isolate the physical waste from the water, which can be sent to a retention pond after lyme and other bases are added to it to reduce its acidity. At this point, the wastewater’s pH and organic concentration levels are safe enough to release back into the environment.

Before and after: Coffee wastewater prior to treatment, left, and once it’s safe to release back into the environment, right, at El Carmen laboratory in Diriamba, Nicaragua. (Zach Dyer/The Tico Times)

Small farmers benefit from these programmes, but they also have application for large commercial wet mills. In the Pacific town of Diriamba, CISA Exportadora — the largest exporter of coffee in Nicaragua, accounting for 30 percent of the country’s annual crop — has reduced its water consumption by 70 percent at the El Carmen wet mill, according to Tito Sequiera, vice general manager in Nicaragua for Mercon, the mill’s owner. CISA has the largest wet mill in Nicaragua and processes some 2,300 metric tons of green coffee, consuming up to 3,000 litres of water daily, depending on the volume of coffee processed. Before, CISA used 1,500 litres of water to process 256 kg of coffee fruit; now, the wet mill has reduced its water usage to 400 litres to process the same amount of coffee. Besides using less water, El Carmen’s water management system reduced contamination in the effluent by 80 percent.

“I’m from this area. For me, this project lifted a weight off my conscience because before I knew we were polluting,” said Gilberto Monterrey, chief of operations for the CISA wet mill. Monterrey said that CISA used to receive complaints from the community about the effluent’s vinegar-like smell. “You’d smell it in the homes and when it rained, the [retention] ponds would overflow. With this project, all that stopped,” he said.

 

(I am also grateful to Zach Dyer for his permission to use his article in The Violence of Development website, as well as to The Tico Times. Amongst all the negative news of violence from the region of Central America, it is pleasing to be able to report on developments that have a beneficial effect on both people and the environment.)

 

http://www.ticotimes.net/2014/11/26/nicaraguan-coffee-farmers-seek-creative-solutions-to-drought-climate-change

Agrotoxics and Monocultivation: their impact on the health of the Salvadoran population

By UNES, the Salvadoran Ecological Unit

www.unes.org.sv/  (Reproduced here by kind permission of UNES)

7th September 2017

The monocultivation of sugar cane has been developed in El Salvador over several centuries. It is presumed that it was introduced to the territory at the time of colonisation, but it was in the 1960s that production increased by 43% and between 2001 and 2011 that it increased by yet another 30%.[1] According to data from the Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES), national cultivation of sugar cane is currently around 108,427 manzanas[2] (2014-2015 sugar harvest) and in the coastal zone cultivation reaches 52,000 manzanas.[3]

El Salvador is one of the countries which has increased its use of pesticides and intensified its use of fertilisers; which, according to CEPAL (United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), is far above the Latin American average and makes it one of the four nations of the region in which it occurs in consumption. However, this does not translate into a significant increase in productivity of crops like basic grains. According to Voices on the Border, the intensive use of agrotoxics is seen largely in the cultivation of sugar cane.

This problem has been reviewed by the UN Special Envoy for the Human Right to Water and Sanitation who has shown his concern over the quality of waters in El Salvador. The problem largely stems from the uncontrolled use of agrochemicals in farming activities. In his final mission report of 11th-18th May 2016, he noted precisely:

“There is an important point of concern regarding the potential dangers which can affect water quality for human consumption. Information was gathered from various sources during the visit about the uncontrolled use of agrochemicals in agriculture, chemicals which are usually hardly removed from the water treatment plants. This even includes the use of some that are prohibited in other countries.”[4]

Also in 2016, the Human Rights Defence Attorney (PDDH), David Ernesto Morales, produced a report on the use of agrotoxics and their impact on human rights.[5] This report provided follow-up to the open record since 2000 on the impacts on health in the Bajo Lempa region, on the database of denunciations of serious health effects, especially cases of chronic kidney disease associated with contact with herbicides and pesticides used in the cultivation of cotton in previous decades.[6]

The extensive and abusive use of agrotoxics is having an impact on the health of the Salvadoran population, according to the network of hospitals which reported in its ‘Report of Works 2011-2012’ for MINSAL [Ministry of Health] that terminal chronic kidney disease is the third cause of death in adults of both sexes, being the first cause for men and the fifth for women.

To date there are no actions being taken to prohibit the use of agrotoxics, despite the fact that many of them are prohibited in other countries and yet are sold without restriction here.

Concerned about the lack of action on the part of the state, UNES is referring to the Inter-American Court for Human Rights to demand that:

  1. The Commission requests from the Salvadoran government reports on the public policies and regulations relating to the environment and health and management of agrotoxics, the means of sustainable life[7], which guarantee the right to a clean environment and to health and which present specific indicators on each of these rights and on the inhabitants of the zones where monocultivation is practised. That the Commission carries out analyses and produces recommendations to the state of El Salvador relating to its compliance with its duty to protect life.
  2. The Commission distributes a report on the compliance by the Salvadoran state with the Inter-American standards relating to food sovereignty, the right to water, health and a clean environment.
  3. Upon the distribution of its report, the Commission requests of the state of El Salvador that it presents periodic reports with the aim of evaluating the advances in the achievement of the recommendations.
  4. Upon the distribution of its report, the Commission requests of the state of El Salvador that it promotes an end to the expansion of the agroindustry of monocultivation which assaults human rights and the means of life of indigenous peoples through clear public agrarian, economic and fiscal policies.
  5. Upon the distribution of its report, the Commission requests of the state of El Salvador that it investigates the denunciations made by community leaders against the assassinations, threats, industrial contamination, environmental contamination, deforestation, land grabs, contamination and diversions of rivers, and labour conflicts resulting from agroindustrial activities.
  6. Finally, we ask the Commission, through its Special Envoy on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights, to visit the country to verify the situation so described and to generate a report relating to agrotoxics and monocultivation and their impacts on human rights.

Footnotes

[1]  Voices on the Border, ‘Large scale production of sugar cane’, 2016, p.2.

[2]  1 manzana is equivalent to 1.75 acres.

[3] UNES, own calculations based on information from Data Collection from Sugar Cane Harvests in El Salvador, 2012-13 and 2014-15.

[4] United Nations, A/HRC/33/49/Ad. Report of the Special Envoy for the Right to Water and Sanitation on mission to El Salvador, paragraph 61, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/170/69/PDF/G1617089.pdf?OpenElement

[5] Attorney for the Defence of Human Rights, Report of the Attorney General’s Office for the Defence of Human Rights on the Use of Agrotoxics in El Salvador and their Impact on Human Rights. PDDH, San Salvador, 21 July 2016, 82 pp.

[6]  Ramón García Trabanino, Terminal Kidney Disease in the Rosales National Hospital. Probable association based on contact with herbicides and pesticides (June 2000), cited in Attorney for the Defence of Human Rights (2016), op.cit, p.4.

[7]  According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, “a means of life is sustainable when it can withstand and recover from ruptures and sharp shocks and maintain its capabilities and its activities in the present as well as in the future without undermining its natural resource base. Thus, the means of life are seen to be affected by external factors which allow it to increase its resilience and consequently decrease its vulnerability.” 4 May 2017 in http://www.fao.org/in-action/herramienta-administracion-tierras/glosario/m/es/

 

Caso Agrotoxicos y Monocultivo, Su Impacto en la Salud de la Poblacion Salvdorena

7 de septiembre del 2017 | Reproducido aquí con la autorización de UNES

Durante varios siglos, en El Salvador se ha desarrollado el monocultivo de la caña de azúcar. (Se presume que ésta fue introducida en algún momento de la colonización al territorio, pero es en los años 60 cuando aumenta su producción en un 43% y, es entre 2001 y 2011 que aumenta en un 30% más.1 De acuerdo con datos de la Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña (UNES), el cultivo nacional de caña de azúcar actualmente ronda las 108,427 manzanas molidas (zafra 2014-2015) y en la zona Marino Costera el cultivo asciende a 52,000 Manzanas.2

Además, El Salvador es uno de los países que ha ido aumentando la utilización de plaguicidas, destacando por la intensidad en el uso de fertilizantes; lo que lo ubica, de acuerdo a la CEPAL, muy por encima del promedio latinoamericano y entre las cuatro naciones de la región que mostraron mayor recurrencia en su consumo. Sin embargo, ello no se traduce en un aporte significativo en el aumento de la productividad de cultivos como los granos básicos. De acuerdo a Voices on the border, el uso intensivo, de agrotóxicos se da en el cultivo de la caña de azúcar.

Este problema ha sido retomado por el Relator Especial del Derecho Humano al Agua y Saneamiento de la ONU, quien ha señaló su preocupación por la calidad de las aguas en El Salvador. Ello, principalmente, derivado del uso no controlado de agroquímicos en actividades agrícolas. En su informe final de misión realizada del 11 al 18 de mayo de 2016, con mucha precisión al respecto acotó:

“Hay un conjunto importante de preocupaciones en cuanto a potenciales peligros que pueden afectar la calidad del agua para consumo humano. Informaciones fueron transmitidas por diversas personas durante la visita sobre la utilización no controlada de agroquímicos en las actividades agrícolas, incluso algunos prohibidos en otros países, que usualmente son pobremente removidos en las plantas de tratamiento del agua”.3

Ese mismo año (2016) el Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (PDDH), David Ernesto Morales, emitió un informe sobre el uso de agrotóxicos y el impacto en los derechos humanos.4 Este informe da seguimiento a expedientes abiertos desde el año 2000 por los impactos en la salud en el Bajo Lempa, sobre la base de denuncias de graves afectaciones a la salud; principalmente casos de enfermedad renal crónica asociada con el contacto con herbicidas y plaguicidas utilizados en el cultivo de algodón décadas atrás.5

El uso extensivo y abusivo de agrotóxicos está impactando en la salud de la población Salvadoreña, según la red de hospitales, la cual reportó en su Informe de Labores 2011-2012 del MINSAL que la insuficiencia renal crónica terminal constituyó la tercera causa de muerte en personas adultas de ambos sexos, siendo la primera causa en hombres y la quinta en mujeres, con 12.6 % de letalidad hospitalaria.

Que a la fecha no se vislumbran acciones encaminadas a prohibir el uso de agrotóxicos, a pesar de que muchos de los que se utilizan están prohibidos en otros países, acá se veden sin ninguna restricción.
La UNES, preocupada por la anomia del Estado, recurre a la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos para solicitar:
PETICIONES

1. Que la Comisión solicite informes al gobierno de El Salvador, sobre sus políticas públicas y regulaciones en materia ambiental, de salud, manejo de agrotóxicos, medios de vida sostenibles,6 que garanticen, el derecho a un medio ambiente sano y a la salud, y que presenten indicadores específicos sobre cada uno de estos derechos y sobre los habitantes de las zonas en donde se desarrollan monocultivos. Que la Comisión realice análisis y emita recomendaciones al Estado de El Salvador para que cumplan con su deber de protección de la vida.

2. Que la Comisión emita un informe sobre el cumplimiento de los estándares Inter americanos por parte de los Estado Salvador en materia de soberanía alimentaria, derecho al agua, a la salud y a un ambiente sano.

3. Que la Comisión, al emitir su informe, solicite al Estado de El Salvador presentar informes periódicos a fin de evaluar el avance en las recomendaciones.

4. Que la Comisión, al emitir su informe, solicite a los Estado de El Salvador promuevan el cese a la expansión de la agroindustria de los monocultivos que atenta contra derechos humanos y la forma de vida de pueblos indígenas, mediante políticas públicas claras agrarias, económicas y fiscales.

5. Que la Comisión, al emitir su informe, solicite al Estado de El Salvador investigar las denuncias presentadas por líderes y lideresas comunitarias por asesinatos, amenazas, contaminación industrial, contaminación del medio ambiente, deforestación, despojo de tierras, contaminación y desvíos de ríos, conflictos laborales en el marco de las actividades de la agroindustriales.

6. Finalmente, solicitamos a la Comisión, a través de la Relatoría Especial sobre Derechos Económicos, Sociales, Culturales y Ambientales, así como los relatores de país, visite el Estado aquí mencionados para constatar la situación descrita y genere un informe en materia de agrotóxicos, monocultivos y sus impactos en los derechos humanos.


1 VOICES on the border, Producción a Gran Escala de Caña de Azúcar, 2016 pág.2
2 UNES, Cálculos propios con base a la información del Informe de Recopilación de Información de la Caña de Azúcar en El Salvador, Zafra 2012 – 2013 y 2014 – 2015
3 Naciones Unidas, A/HRC/33/49/Ad. Informe del Relator Especial del Derecho al Agua y el Saneamiento acerca de su misión a El Salvador. Párrafo 61. https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/170/69/PDF/G1617069.pdf?OpenElement
4 Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos. Informe de la Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos sobre el uso de agrotóxicos en El Salvador y el impacto en los derechos humanos. PDDH, San Salvador, 21 de julio de 2016, 82 pp.
5 García Trabanino, Ramón. Enfermedad Renal Terminal en el Hospital Nacional Rosales. Probable asociación del antecedente de contacto con herbicidas y plaguicidas (Junio 2000), citado en Procurador para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (2016), Op. Cit., p.4

6 Según la FAO, “un medio de vida es sostenible cuando puede afrontar y recuperarse de rupturas y shocks bruscos y mantener sus capacidades y activos tanto en el presente como en el futuro sin socavar las bases de sus recursos naturales. Así, los medios de vida se ven afectados por los efectos externos que permite aumentar su resiliencia y disminuyen por consiguiente su vulnerabilidad.” Visto el 4 de mayo de 2017 en http://www.fao.org/in-action/herramienta-administracion-tierras/glosario/m/es/

New Costa Rican Law allows workers to be reinstated quickly

The following article features Didier Leitón Valverde, from the Costa Rican SITRAP union. An interview with Didier is featured in the Costa Rican interviews section of this website. The article is taken from Banana Trade News Bulletin No. 57 (November 2017) and is reproduced here by kind permission of Banana Link.

After years of work and much political and legislative wrangling the Labour Procedures Reform (RPL in Spanish) finally came into force in Costa Rica in July 2017. The independent trade unions that have struggled for years to defend workers they consider to have been sacked unfairly in the banana and pineapple industries, having to put up with tribunal procedures that could take up to 5 or 6 years, are seeing the first tangible results from the new legislation.

The law now means, amongst other advances, that hearings and decisions on reinstatement after unfair sacking can be expedited in just a few weeks from sacking to reinstatement. Since the RPL came into force two women and eight men working at different pineapple and banana plantations have all regained the jobs from which they were unfairly dismissed, thanks to their affiliation to the SITRAP trade union.

The workers took their cases to the Labour Ombudsman which is the new body established to present cases in the Labour Court. They used the special rapid procedure for cases of alleged discrimination that is one of the measures included in the Reform. In all ten cases in the last few weeks, the pineapple and banana workers, sacked because they were members of the union, got their jobs back in Grupo Acon, Del Monte and Dole plantations and packhouses.

Didier Leitón Valverde

The reinstatements were ordered by judges within less than one week of the cases being presented. In cases where the employer is reluctant to accept the court order, Labour Ministry staff are empowered to accompany the worker back to their former job.

The trade union’s General Secretary, Didier Leitón Valverde, comments that:

this shows us that the RPL is benefiting working people and shows that some people were wrong to say that it would be of no value to workers. It also demonstrates that there are good professionals in the Ombudsman’s office and Labour Courts who are interpreting the legislation properly. People who did not join the union before out of fear that the employer could sack them indiscriminately are now losing their fear.
Banana Link website: http://www.bananalink.org.uk/

SITRAP website: http://www.sitrap.net/quienesSomos.html