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

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.

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

ANEXCO harasses and fires union members

The following is a report reproduced here by kind permission of Banana Link.
ANEXCO harasses and fires union members – update on our Urgent Action
November 2015

baThank you for supporting our recent urgent action appeal in support of union members at Costa Rican pineapple producer ANEXCO. More than 23​,000 emails have been sent to the company, calling on them to end harrassment of union members and to engage in constructive dialogue with the union SINTRAPEM (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores/as del Sector Privado Empresarial). This massive effort, plus several articles in the trade press and an intervention by the UK’s Ethical Trade Initiative combined to convince Fyffes of the need to try and resolve the issues we raised.

Initially, three union members were sacked shortly after the urgent action appeal was launched. However, the pressure against union members inside the plantation ​i​s reported to have diminished since then and a meeting at the Costa Rican Labour Ministry on 20th October generated an agreement to explore the potential for the reinstatement of these three most sacked workers.

Subsequently, a meeting in San José on 30th October – involving SINTRAPEM, COSIBA (the Costa Rican banana and pineapple union coordinating body), COLSIBA (the Latin American banana and agro industrial union coordinating body), Banana Link, ANEXCO and Fyffes – did not achieve the real breakthrough that was needed to put an end to the anti-union activities. But ANEXCO and Fyffes did, however, agree to another meeting to review the list of the union’s complaints, provisionally scheduled for 6th November.

Although there is not yet a satisfactory conclusion to our urgent action appeal, the progress made so far would not have been possible without your support. We will keep you updated.​

www.bananalink.org.uk
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Who Certifies the Certifiers? Retailers put Faith in Rainforest Alliance

Certification is used to indicate the ethical credentials of agricultural products. It is particularly used by transnational corporations such as the producers of tropical fruits like Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita. I am grateful to Banana Link, a UK-based organisation that provides in-depth analysis of the international trade in tropical fruits for permission to reproduce the following article which raises serious questions and doubts about the validity and purpose of SAN/RA standards[1], and should especially prompt the question: who certifies the certifiers? It is reproduced from their News Bulletin of March 2016 (no.54).

[Banana Link: www.bananalink.org.uk]

Key words: Rainforest Alliance; certification; workers’ rights; SAN standards; anti-union tactics; banana production.

In the 1990s and 2000s it was the fruit companies who put their faith in certification and sought to use it as a way of demonstrating to consumers and buyers that they respected a set of social or environmental standards. It was Social Accountability International’s SA 8000 labour standard and Rainforest Alliance’s mainly environmental standard that found favour with Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita.

In the last few months it is the retailers in the UK who have been announcing that they will move to 100% “sustainable sourcing” through the use of certification. Late last year Asda/Walmart announced that 93% of its bananas would be Rainforest Alliance certified by March 2016, the remainder being Fairtrade certified. In February it was the turn of Lidl UK to announce a similar strategy: by the end of this year the 88% of their offer that was not Fairtrade certified would meet Rainforest Alliance standards. Press reports also suggest that Tesco will follow with a similar strategy.

Apart from the crucial difference with Fairtrade – that there is no minimum price enshrined in the standard – how does a certification scheme that started life as a set of purely environmental standards fare when it comes to securing compliance with labour standards for plantation workers?  A report last year from the Honduran federation of agro-industrial workers’ unions Festagro gives serious cause for concern, and is summarised here:

Rainforest Alliance certification and workers’ rights
“Despite the good principles and objectives set out in the certification standards and their theories of change, improvements for workers are hard to detect in practice.” – Dr Ruy Diaz and German Zepeda in “Working Conditions in Certified Banana Plantations in Central America”, August 2015, produced with support from the US-based AFL-CIO Solidarity Centre.

The Rainforest Alliance currently certifies 1600 banana farms covering over 100 000 hectares.

The authors of the report carried out interviews with workers and union representatives in 37 Rainforest Alliance certified farms belonging to both multinational and national producers in Guatemala (North and South), Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

Key issues emerging from the interviews
Reponsiveness to workers and the issues covered by the SAN standard

  • No systematic contact between workers and trade unions on the one hand and the certifier and the auditors on the other
  • When issues are raised verbally with auditors they are not resolved
  • The formal complaint procedure is difficult to access (the form is only available in English!)
  • Audit reports are not shared with workers or unions
  • The only cases of de-certification over labour violations were in Honduras where the unions engaged in a public campaign to bring the violations to RA’s attention

 Labour issues found on certified plantations

  • The most systematic and serious is the case of Costa Rica where there is little or no trade union freedom and collective bargaining; there is often systematic persecution of trade union members and they suffer workplace discrimination; there are many cases of sackings of unionised workers using a range of pretexts. The situation also remains serious for workers in national producer companies in Honduras despite de-certification and re-certification of a group of 14 plantations.
  • There are no unions in Southern Guatemala and workers fear to form or join a union because of the anti-union messages from employers and because of the assassination of the leader of the only union that was set up in the region in 2008. This region has the biggest concentration of RA certified farms in the world.
  • Non-payment of minimum wages was found in some plantations in Southern Guatemala and Honduras.
  • Overtime hours are rarely paid in Costa Rica; overtime is de facto obligatory in Nicaragua and Costa Rica and in some national producers in Honduras.
  • In Nicaragua there are several plantations where the employer does not pay full social security contributions.
  • In Honduras and Nicaragua there are violations of holiday rights in many farms; and in Nicaragua workers on long-term sick leave are being made redundant.
  • Sexual harassment is reported in certified plantations in Panama, Honduras and Costa Rica
  • In Southern Guatemala and Honduras there are many plantations with statutory Occupational Health & Safety Committees; in many others the committees function badly or only exist on paper.
  • In Guatemala one community reported being regularly subjected to aerial spraying from the neighbouring certified plantation.
  • Workers on all plantations reported that there is inadequate information provided on agrochemicals they use and little or no training in health and safety in many cases. In Southern Guatemala workers reported up to 12 hour days working with chemicals.
  • Much of the training required in SAN standards is rarely delivered.

Conclusion
The workers all assume that the certification is to benefit the company in marketing its fruit. Although there is a reasonable level of awareness that their employer is certified by RA there is almost no awareness of the details of the standards and therefore how they could use the leverage of certification to demand the end to violations of rights or improvements in working conditions.

[1] SAN/RA: Sustainable Agriculture Network/Rainforest Alliance

The growth of pineapples in Costa Rica

* In 2009, it was estimated that 50,000 hectares of land were sown with pineapples and that 26,000 jobs were directly involved in pineapple production. Source: Ana Cristina Camacho Sandoval (5 July 2009) ‘Insensatez piñera’, El Financiero, No.724, p.4, citing data source as the National Chamber of Pineapple Producers and Exporters.

* In 2009, it was estimated that 50,000 hectares of land were sown with pineapples and that 26,000 jobs were directly involved in pineapple production.
Source:
Ana Cristina Camacho Sandoval (5 July 2009) ‘Insensatez piñera’, El Financiero, No.724, p.4, citing data source as the National Chamber of Pineapple Producers and Exporters.

Industrial farming methods spell damaging dust storms for Leon and Chinandega

Taken from Nicaragua News 15/03/15

Leon and the Chinandega departments have been subjected to four days of dust storms with winds gusting to 30-50 km per hour. Residents say the dust storms are an annual event with dust carried from the industrial scale planting of sugarcane and peanuts in the region. Residents said trees serving as windbreaks had been chopped down and they called on the government to plant more windbreak trees. They criticized the industrial farming methods as ecologically unsound. The dust is so bad that drivers on the Leon bypass highway had to drive slowly with lights on at noon. Poor people’s homes are filled with dust because they are not air tight.

There were increased incidents of respiratory illness, skin irritation, and potential contamination of water sources reported in Chinandega. Dr. Marcio Arteaga warned that the dust carries viruses and bacteria and warned the public to be cautious, especially children. “There are more respiratory illnesses such as influenza, pneumonia, and the dust can also cause conjunctivitis. People need to be careful not to expose children, especially children with allergies. Another important thing is to wash hands, because bacteria stick to the hands,” Arteaga said.

Originally from La Prensa (Managua), Mar. 8, 2015

The Ecological Association of Permaculturalists of Suchitoto (AEPS)

The Ecological Association of Permaculturalists of Suchitoto (AEPS) / Asociación Ecológica de Permacultores y Permaculturas de Suchitoto

Towards the end of 2014 problems of land tenure, staffing and management of the Permaculture Institute of El Salvador (IPES) led to a change in organisation both on the ground and in management of the IPES Demonstration Plot outside the town of Suchitoto, El Salvador. From the start of 2015 the Ecological Association of Permaculturalists of Suchitoto (AEPS) assumed management, control and working of the land on the Demonstration Plot. Many of the same characters involved with the IPES are now also involved with the AEPS and the business of organic agriculture on the plot remains much the same, including the training of campesinos from communities all around El Salvador.

The following two items – a short video and a Powerpoint presentation of the work on the Demonstration Plot – were produced by members of the AEPS during 2015.

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/