Saturday, August 8, 2009

Aerial spraying: People run for cover when crop dusters fly

Philippine Daily Inquirer/Features
MANILA, Philippines — “Dili kami peste (We are not pests.)”

This is the cry of communities near banana plantations in Mindanao who have to suffer the adverse effects of regular toxic aerial spraying meant to kill pests in bananas.

School children on their way to school, farmers cultivating their small farms, people drinking coffee al fresco and families doing their daily chores are among those who suffer indirect hits and have to run for cover when airplanes unleash pesticides on vast banana plantations. While they are not the intended targets, there is no way they can avoid getting hit by the airplanes’ toxic load. Respiratory and skin ailments are among the first signs of a toxic hit.

Farm animals, edible plants and water sources also catch their share of the toxic rain.
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Representatives of Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (Maas) are now here in Manila to inform people, particularly government authorities, and to get support for their plea to ban aerial spraying. Maas is a member of the National Task Force Against Aerial Spray composed of 14 legal, environmental, church and women’s groups.

Wearing black T-shirts and red headbands with the words “Dili kami peste” and “Stop Aerial Spraying,” Cecille Moran and Liezl Bacalso, both of Davao City and members of Maas, have been visiting schools, and church-related NGOs and civil society groups in Metro Manila in the past week to seek support for their campaign. They carry with them research materials on the dangers of aerial spraying and expose the havoc it has created in the lives of residents living near banana plantations.

“We are not squatters,” Moran, 46, told the Inquirer. “We own our farms and grow food as a means of livelihood.” Many families who live in-between plantations are exposed to constant spraying, she said. Fruit trees and farm animals have died. “We watch the leaves of the malunggay tree wither,” she said. Malunggay is considered one of the most nutritious leafy vegetables and is easy to grow.

Toxic drift
Aerial spraying is not the only way to fight pests, Moran said. There are other ways, among them manual and boom spraying, Moran added, but banana plantation owners prefer the aerial method to cut costs.

Davao City is not the only place in Mindanao that has to put up with aerial spraying, Bacalso, 21, said. Davao City’s feisty mayor Rodrigo Duterte is a vocal antiaerial spraying advocate, she added, and the local government had passed an ordinance against it. But the Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) challenged the ordinance in court. Moran was one of the farmer-intervenors in the case of PBGEA vs. the city government.

Maas got a favorable decision but PBGEA elevated the case to the Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, aerial spraying continues.

According to MAAS, aerial spraying is a way of applying pesticides on agricultural crops with the use of airplanes. In the Philippines, exporters of Cavendish bananas use this method to kill the Sigatoka fungus. Filipinos prefer the native varieties which are sweeter.

DOH study
Aerial spraying hits not just the intended targets but human and nonhumans as well that happen to be within the range of the toxic fallout. Maas said that the toxic drift reaches 3.2 kilometers on the average.

In May 2009, the Department of Health released the study “Health and Environmental Assessment of Sitio Camocaan, Hagonoy, Davao del Sur” which showed that residents exposed to the spray were found to have pesticide traces in their blood. Air and soil outside plantation boundaries were also found to be contaminated. The study recommended banning aerial spraying and a shift to organic methods.

Maas said that the tridemorph and chlorothalonil fungicides used in the Philippines are banned in other countries. Animal studies have shown that the fungicide mancozeb could cause cancer. The ground breaking 1962 book “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson described aerial spraying as “an amazing rain of death.”

Banned in 2001
According to Maas, the provincial government of Bukidnon banned aerial spraying way back in 2001 and North Cotabao in 2004. Banana plantations have thrived without the aerial spray, Maas pointed out. Davao City’s 2007 ordinance is being challenged by plantation owners because it supposedly violates their right to property.

Senator Miguel Zubiri and Representative Rufus Rodriguez have filed bills to ban aerial spraying in the entire country. Constitutional expert Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, SJ, has repeatedly tackled the issue in his Philippine Daily Inquirer columns. He cited Section 16, Article II of the 1987 Constitution which says: “The State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature” and Section 15 which says “The State shall protect and promote the right to health of the people and instill health consciousness among them.”

Anti-spraying advocates have an on-line petition at