Groups urge Philippine Congress to ban pesticide aerial spraying

Today, the anti-aerial spraying network Mamamayan Ayaw sa Aerial Spraying (MAAS) and other allies called on Congress to pass the long-delayed bill banning aerial spraying in banana plantations nationwide, saying that the controversial agricultural method brings more harm than good to local communities and the environment.

“Beyond its supposed economic benefits, aerial spraying is a daily menace to our communities and to the environment,” said MAAS President Dagohoy Magaway, who arrived in Manila today to attend the Congressional Committee on Ecology hearing on the proposed bill.

“The pesticide drift coming out of the spray planes contaminates our drinking wells and leaves residues on our vegetable gardens and poisons even our domestic animals. It even drenches our children on their way to school. How can anyone in their right minds think that aerial spraying is good for the community? ,” he added.

Last February, the United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on the Right to Food also took note of the urgency of the issue and urged the Philippine government to address the problem because of its risks to public health [1].

Aerial spraying is preferred by banana plantations because it is a cheap and easy way of administering the fungicide which targets the sigatoka fungus. Banning aerial spraying, industry supporters contend, would cripple the industry.

However, the National Task Force Against Aerial Spraying (NTFAAS) refutes this. In 2011, NTFAAS member organization Interface Development Interventions (IDIS) commissioned an economic study assessing the financial impact of banana plantations shifting from aerial to ground spraying.

“The results showed that even with the ban and the proposed shift to ground spray, the industry can survive the change. Admittedly, there will be a small decrease in potential net returns because of the initial capital requirements needed to make the shift, but over-all, its net returns will still be positive,” said IDIS Executive Director Ann Fuertes. “Small farmers who have been contracted by banana plantations to grow bananas, also stand to earn more from the proposed shift to boom spraying. In fact, farmers will no longer have to pay for the high cost of aerial spraying.”

Several local and international civil society organizations, including Greenpeace Philippines, also signed a position paper, addressed to the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) last April 2015, echoing the call for the banning of aerial spraying. The groups cited how the majority of these chemicals/pesticides used in aerial spraying are dermal sensitizers.

The Department of Health (DOH) had initially commented that even in low dosages, dermal sensitizers can still cause allergic reactions. This is why it is imperative that an aerial spraying ban be imposed because the pesticide drift indiscriminately affects those who are living in and near these banana plantations.

“It is imperative that we veer away from using chemical pesticides in farms that put people’s lives at risk due to the increasing use of toxic chemicals. The use of synthetic chemicals also alters the ecological balance urgently needed in building climate-resilient farms, especially in this age of climate change,” said Virginia Benosa-Llorin, Ecological Agriculture Campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines. “There are already existing examples of banana plantations using ecological practices like those in North Cotabato where growers are now exporting organically grown bananas. Indeed, there are more human and environment-friendly ways of growing bananas than aerial spraying of chemical fungicides.

An alternative lawyering group also reiterated the call to pass a law banning aerial spraying, saying that Congress should recognize the detrimental effects of aerial spraying and act accordingly to stop the dangerous practice.

“These groups have taken on this legal battle for 9 years now. The right of the people to a balanced and healthy ecology occupies the same class as our other constitutional rights, thus, must be given the same level of priority,” said Atty. Juan Karlo Silva of Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (SALIGAN). “The voice of the people should be heard. No amount of economic profit should take precedence over our right to a healthy life.”

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