Agrochemicals — Part III

I posted less than a week ago about the deaths and illnesses being caused by the uncontrolled use of toxic agrochemicals throughout El Salvador, only to find out a day later that they had just approved a law in the legislative assembly that addresses just that.  The decree is awaiting approval by the President, Funes, but all signs seem to point to his approval.  I’ll try to give an overview of the decree in layman’s terms, and if at all possible, NOT be boring in the process.

In essence, the decree is actually just a modification of an existing law that was not being complied with and that was severely lacking.  The modifications prohibit the use of 53 agrochemicals, the names of which might as well be in Chinese for me, but in a recent press conference, it was explained that many of these chemicals are among those found in people suffering kidney failure.  The goal is to have these 53 checmicals 100% eliminated from the country over the course of the next 2 years.

Another main component of the decree is that it requires that all agrochemical containers have instructions and description of contents in Spanish.  What?  You mean they didn’t before?  Yes, that’s right.  Granted, a large percentage of the farmers using and buying these chemicals are illiterate, but even for those who do know how to read, they had no way of educating themselves on safe dosage and use of these toxic chemicals.

A third principal component of the decree is the restriction of areas where crop dusting from airplanes is permitted, and outlines severe monetary punishment for anyone that breaks this law.  Currently, planes drop huge amounts of agrochemicals on crops — large proportions of which are applied to sugarcane — that are often directly next to where people live.  This new decree creates a boundary of 100 meters from any residences, and also prohibits the use of crop dusting where basic grains are grown, which includes corn, rice, and beans.  The challenge now will be for the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock to force compliance.

The discussions inside the assembly where this decree was being discussed were interesting as well, and help shed light on the different political lenses through which this issue can be seen.  Representatives of the right wing argued that these agrochemicals are necessary to combat plagues that drastically affect crops and that, as a result, small farmers will be the most affected by this law.

However, Estela Hernandez, a representative of the Environmental Commission who spoke as representative at the assembly, responded by asserting that small farmers will actually benefit the most, since they are the ones currently in closest contact with the chemicals and forced to use them in order to compete and participate in the larger market that is drived by mega agro producers. Plus, there are actually lots of biological alternatives that have already been explored and implemented.  Hernandez emphasized that the people who will be hurt the most by this law will be the business people who make their millions on importing these chemicals.

In summary, this law is a really positive step in the right direction for environmental and health protection, but will depend on the continued participation of the Salvadoran people and responsibility in its government.  But let’s give it a fist pump for a step in the right direction!

Que viva el medio ambiente!!!!

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