Towards a pesticides-free planet
There is a growing movement for global action to halt the increasing use of harmful pesticides in agriculture and transition towards more sustainable farming methods that protect people and the environment
This has been underlined in three key UN reports on toxic substances, the right to a healthy environment and food systems published ahead of this week’s UN Food Systems Summit.
FIAN International has contributed to the momentum for change with a study of local experiences from around the world. Transitioning to pesticide free food systems: people´s power and imagination takes a bottom-up human rights approach and shows that a transition towards agroeology is underway in many parts of the world. It also maps out concrete steps for other communities and for policymakers in a “key elements” paper which aims to support advocacy towards achieving pesticide-free environments.
Pesticides are responsible for an estimated 200,000 acute poisoning deaths each year. Long-term exposure can lead to chronic health conditions including cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm, including neurological damage. Runoff from pesticides frequently pollutes surrounding ecosystems and exacerbates biodiversity loss – including the biodiversity of soils, which can lead to sharp declines in crop yields, threatening food security.
Despite the harm caused, pesticide use has soared in recent decades to an estimated 3.5 million tonnes in 2020. Just six mega corporations — Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer and BASF — control 75 percent of the world pesticides market.
Agricultural workers’ unions including the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations and peasants’ movements, such as La Via Campesina, have protested for years against the intensive use of pesticides due to their negative impacts on health and right to food and nutrition.
Pesticides play a key role in the global food production system, contributing to increasing inequality, reducing food diversity, destroying the sovereignty of people over their territories, and fuelling environmental collapse. Their growing use highlights the failure of states to comply with their human rights obligations regarding the right to adequate food and nutrition and related rights. Pesticides are also an integral part of the current corporate-driven, export-focused, agri-food model, based on unsustainable monoculture.
Already in 2017, UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to food and toxics called for an end to this model stating that:
“While efforts to ban and appropriately regulate the use of pesticides are a necessary step in the right direction, the most effective, long-term method to reduce exposure to these toxic chemicals is to move away from industrial agriculture.”
Read more: Infograph on 4 steps to transition to pesticide-free communities