Kadrinche*: Turning Bhutanese

Blog by Danica Castillo

Bhutan is a small country with a total of 47,000 sq km land area and a total population 700,000 people relying mainly on agriculture and forestry as a means of livelihood. Apart from the lush greeneries and colourful temples, Bhutan takes pride of its well-preserved culture, tradition and the principle of “Gross National Happiness” (GNH).

I went to Bhutan as a participant to the Chula University Right Livelihood Summer School (CURLS). It is a study-cultural exchange to learn more about food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture in the context of the Bhutanese culture. I was excited to be in the trip because I have learned beforehand that Bhutan is a carbon-negative country with a self-sustaining agricultural system – something most countries should emulate nowadays.

The writer on far-right together together with some of her fellow group-mates wearing Kira at the College of Natural Resouces.
The writer on far-right together together with some of her fellow group-mates wearing Kira at the College of Natural Resouces.

The trip started off in the Royal University of Bhutan where my fellow participants and I were given an overview of the country. This is where we have learned that the Bhutanese constitution ensures protection of the forestry and that it has remained independent versus the WTO, IMF and the World Bank.

There were 25 participants in the CURLS coming from different countries around the world. It is safe to say that the village trip is the most memorable part of our trip to Bhutan. We lived in three separate villages for three (3) nights and three (3) days. We were accommodated by our hosts wherein we lived with, shared their food as well as their stories.

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The writer with some of her fellow group-mates watching a villager make an organic, homemade butter straight from her own livestock.

We entered the village wearing traditional costumes for women called Kira. Kira is a three-piece clothing with ankle-length skirt, an inner long sleeve blouse and an outer long sleeve blouse clasped together by a Kira belt and fancy brooches. The fabric is usually made from warm, hand-woven cotton – perfect for the chilly weather.

We stayed with the family of Amm Khandu in Jazhika village, Shengana, Punakkha Valley. She is a 43 year old woman and is the head of her household. Her livestock is a constant source of fresh milk, butter, cheese and eggs every day for the whole village.  She, her family and other neighbours work together in the farm.

Amm Khandu serving traditional Bhutanese snack as she welcome the writer and her group mates in her house.
Amm Khandu serving traditional Bhutanese snack as she welcome the writer and her group mates in her house.

The young help feed the chickens and cows from kitchen scraps and pick edible mushrooms from the forest. The older people keeps traditional seeds and farming methods. Her neighbor’s elder keeps a heirloom of traditional seeds consisting of beans, cucumber and different variety of chilies.

She practices organic farming and enjoys bountiful harvests from her rice and buckwheat farm of three (3) hectares. True to their natural and organic lifestyle, Bhutanese farmers usually use the combination of ashes (from burnt wood and leaves) and neem oil as pesticides.

I have also learned that their government gives them a lot of support such as free water supply, farming inputs and sometimes even livestock. Farmers are also encouraged to join the community forest group as their contribution to conserve and protect their country’s natural resources.

Amm Khandu watches over her son (on the left) and her nephew (on the right) as they draw a map of their village
Amm Khandu watches over her son (on the left) and her nephew (on the right) as they draw a map of their village

Children enjoy free education and medication. I saw them roaming freely and happily around farms, hiking within the hills, playing in the river and sometimes even in the forest when accompanied by a guardian. Indeed, a bright and pesticides-free future awaits them.

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*Kadrinche means “thank you” in Dzongkha, Bhutan’s national language

11 Questions we asked Dr. Meriel Watts

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Agrochemicals like pesticides have contributed in the massive destruction of the environment including acute and chronic impacts on livestock, soil fertility, and pollinators like bees and other beneficial insects necessary for a stable, healthy and productive ecosystem.

Aside from environmental destruction, there is no question as well on the harmful impact of pesticides on human health and that the people of poor countries are worst affected. It is also in these countries that two of the most vulnerable groups — women and children — are most exposed.

Research shows there’s a link between the indiscriminate use of highly hazardous pesticides and infertility, birth defects and miscarriages. Endocrine disruptors from pesticides can mutate genes, even causing epigenetic (or heritable changes in gene expression) effects – potentially putting future generations at risk.The good news is there are alternatives to chemical-intensive agriculture. One is agroecology.

The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) has long promoted agroecology, which has shown to increase farm productivity and food security. Innovative, environmentally-friendly and communal, agroecology improves rural livelihoods and is adaptive to threats such as climate change.

In this exclusive interview, coordinator of PAN Aotearoa New Zealand, a steering council member of PAN AP, renowned activist and pesticide specialist Dr. Meriel Watts expands on agroecology, shares her experiences in practicing it, and details its many benefits. Her recent talk on agroecology is available here and her latest book, co- written with Stephanie Williamson, titled Replacing Chemicals with Biology: Phasing out Highly Hazardous Pesticides with Agroecology is available here.

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1.How long have you been farming?

For thirteen years on our own farm, Tidal Organics but off and on throughout my life working on other people’s farms.

2. What kind of education or career did you pursue before farming?

Although I was city-raised, I always wanted to be a farmer, since my earliest memories. I would spend school holidays on my uncle’s dairy farm.

I worked on farms in New Zealand as soon as I left school, then completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Science. After that I worked for a while in plant disease research for the Government. I moved to the United Kingdom and worked on farms there, and eventually joined a medical laboratory. When I came back to New Zealand, after a little more farm work my life became urban for a while and I began growing my own vegetables (this was about 40 years ago!)

Then I trained in natural medicine including herbal medicine, homeopathy and nutrition, and established a practice treating people (and farm animals), as well as teaching young mums how to treat their sick children. When I began treating people with pesticide poisoning, I realised that something need to be done to stop people getting poisoned in the first place. So at that stage, about 25 years ago, I began my life’s work as a pesticide activist and advocate for organic farming, both streams of work continuing to this day.

During this time I completed a PhD in pesticide risk assessment and policy, sat on numerous Government committees on pesticides, worked for Greenpeace, the Soil & Health Association and Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PANAP). At the same time I took a leading role in the organics sector in New Zealand. So my working life has been, and always will be, a happy blend of human health issues and agricultural issues – both the negative impacts and the positive pathways – because of course all are totally connected, although today these four areas are still mostly not brought together in policy, training or work areas. The silo approach to life still dominates.

3.Why do you feel that it is important to use agroecological systems in farming?

Well, the first thing is that it challenges the silo approach: it brings people to see their farms, their families, their communities and the environment as an interconnected whole. Once they see that, they understand that using toxic pesticides poisons the environment, endangers their own health, and undermines the sustainability of farm production. Agroecology gives farmers greater control over their production; they do not have to rely on expensive input to produce cash crops that don’t really feed the family. Agroecology enables them to use local resources to provide healthy food and a cash surplus.

4. What does agroecology mean for you?

It means the farmer and family and community working together with the land in a way that best utilises the particular climatic and geographic characteristics of this land to produce healthy food in a way that improves sustainability and biodiversity and the overall functioning of the agroecosystem. It means farmers and their families and communities having greater control over their own lives.

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5. You have documented many cases of successful methods of farming based on agroecology from all over the world in the book Replacing Chemicals with Biology: Phasing Out Highly Hazardous Pesticides with Agroecology. What is the key lesson you learned writing this book?

The utmost importance of farmer-to-farmer learning and the sharing of knowledge and experiences.

6. What personal characteristics do you have that drew you to (and keeps you motivated on) farming?

Determination; an enquiring mind; joy in solving problems.

7. What is the biggest challenge in farming right now?

The variability and unpredictability of the climate. For example, this year our forecast was for for a very serious prolonged drought; instead it has rained so much that we had problems with fruit rot for the first time ever. Grapes would not ripen and the olive harvest looks to be a disaster. What was normally a ‘Mediterranean’ summer – hot and dry – has become a hot and wet tropical summer. We have no idea what the next season will bring so it is very hard to plan crops.

8. What is the most difficult part in terms of gaining ground against corporate giants that promote pesticides?

The power they have over people’s minds. People want to believe that the food they are eating or the Roundup they spray in their backyards is safe because it is easy, so they believe it. They don’t want to question what they have always assumed to be safe. They don’t want to worry about chemicals, so they close their minds. If only people would open their minds, the corporations would lose their power. We, the people, actually do have greater power than these businesses through our choices as consumers (that includes farmers buying inputs) but we don’t exercise it. If consumers stopped buying chemically-produced and highly processed food, farmers would soon change to agroecology.

9. What does it mean to you to be able to farm?

Everything: producing healthy food for people in our community is central to my being.

10. What has been the biggest reward from agroecological farming?

For me, the biggest reward is the gratitude and smiles when people come to our place to collect their weekly order of fresh healthy fruit, vegetables and herbs. That, and sitting down in the evening to a big plate of organic vegetables straight from the garden. I want food that is healthy, fresh, grown without poisons, nurturing and sustaining; and that everyone has the right to such food.

11. How would you encourage other farmers to adopt agroecological practices?

Constantly observe everything on your farm; observe what other agroecological farmers are doing; ask questions. Make compost. Do not reach for a spray when you see an insect, but learn which ones are your friends and which ones you need to control. Look for smart control options, like traps.

Photo Credit : Jo Davies

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Meriel’s Latest Talk on Phasing Out Highly Hazardous Pesticides with Agroecology is here !

 

April is autism awareness month

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April is Autism Awareness Month, and there is growing evidence between the link of pesticides and autism. Autism affects 1 in 68 children in the United States, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a set of disorders in the brain functions that leads to by impaired social interaction, restricted communication and repetitive stereotypic behaviours.
It is generally believed that ASD arises from alterations to specific brain structures during critical windows of vulnerability during fetal development. These rates are so alarming that this would be described as a pandemic according to key researchers and public health experts.
Pesticides are now registered as leading causes of autism with both organophosphates (OPs) and organochlorides (OCs) listed in the top ten causes along with other heavy metals (Landrigan et al 2012). Even small amounts of pesticides can lead to a higher risk factor of developing ASD (Eskenazi et al ,2007)
In many parts of Asia children and school staff of child bearing age are exposed to pesticides to pesticides near schools, through their diet and their environments. In rural areas, poverty forces children work on farms and plantations. Children are,then, exposed to pesticide spray drifts from farms and also sprayed on aerially eg. Philippines.

In Various Parts of Asia, the Numbers Are Alarming

Prevalence is hard to establish and estimates have varied widely, although in 2006 they were reported to be around 0.6precent of the population; with one recent UK estimate of 1.1 percent. In 2012, the rate in the US was reported as 11 percent (Landrigan et al 2012). A survey of 7 to 12-year-old children in South Korea, the prevalence of ASD was found to be a surprisingly high 2.64 percent (Kim et al 2011). In Australia rate: 45 cases per 10,000 people; 7th highest in the world. Also, Japan is considered to have the highest autism rate in the world: 181.1 cases per 10,000 people.

The number of children diagnosed with ASD is trending upwards, now at 31 percent of NDIS participants which comprises the largest disability group in the scheme; according to the NDIS Quarterly Report in June 2015. There was considerable variation across age groups, with a marked drop-off after peaking in the 5-9-year-old age group.  Also, Japan is considered to have the highest autism rate in the world: 181.1 cases per 10,000 people. A recent study has pegged the prevalence at 0.16 percent, previously it was reported around 0.04 percent and 0.05 percent.

Number of cases individuals of autism recorded by the Autism Society of America in 2007.

 

 

(Source: The Autism Society of America, 2007)

A growing number of epidemiological studies are the linking exposure to pesticide drifts to chronic conditions in children such as autism spectrum disorders (Roberts et al 2007).

Other studies have found: –

Children are exposed to pesticides via spray drift are at a higher risk of developing ASD. An investigation of the influence of pesticide drift into homes near agricultural fields in the US found a strong association between ASD in children and their mothers residing near fields where endosulfan and/or dicofol were sprayed in the periods just before and during fetal development of the central nervous system (weeks 1-8). The risk of ASD increased with the quantity of pesticide used and proximity of home to the fields being treated. Children, whose mothers were living within 500 metres of these fields, had more than a 60precent increased risk of ASD (Roberts et al 2007).

Children living in rural areas are further exposed to the impacts of pesticides. In 2015, a study in Malaysia found that children aged 10 to 11 years were exposed to pesticides like OPs and carbamates near rice paddy fields had poor motor skills, poor hand/eye coordination, attention speed and perceptual motor speed due to organophosphate and carbamate pesticide exposure. Children also had lower cholinesterase levels which is also indicator of pesticide poisoning.

What can you do to prevent Autism?

In developing Asian countries, such as Vietnam, India, Malaysia; many types of pesticides including brain harming pesticides like chlorpyrifos are readily available and still widely used. Brain harming organophosphate pesticides like chloropyrifos and monocrotophos, on the list of terrible twenty are still manufactured by DOW and is widely used around the world.

In Asia, awareness for ASD is increasing in many countries such as Malaysia, China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, etc. however this is not enough. Communities and concerned parents and teachers need to take concerted action to protect children from toxic pesticides by: –

• Limit and prevent exposure to pesticides by creating buffer zones around schools and consuming pesticides free food as much as possible
• Support agroecological measures, and the farmers that choose to farm without pesticides. This can include biological pest control, crop rotation, etc. This will ensure that no pesticide residue get on to the fruits and vegetables we eat.
• Also, call upon government officials to outright ban and phase out highly-hazardous pesticides usage in agricultural areas. We call upon you to sign this petition.

REFERENCES CITED

CAUSES OF AUTISM. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2016, from http://www.autism-help.org/autism-causes-detailed.htm

Dua, N. (2010, February 25). Pesticides pose health risks. Retrieved April 11, 2016, from http://www.irinnews.org/report/88234/asia-pesticides-pose-health-risks

FFTC Publication Database Food and Fertilizer Technology Center. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2016, from http://www.agnet.org/library.php?func=view

Levin ED, Timofeeva OA, Yang L, Petro A, Ryde IT, Wrench N, et al. 2009. Early postnatal parathion exposure in rats causes sex-selective cognitive impairment and neurotransmitter defects which emerge in aging. Behav Brain Res 208(2):319–327.

Moon, J., Chun, B., & Lee, S. (2015, February 23). Variable response of cholinesterase activities following human exposure to different types of organophosphates. Retrieved April 11, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25712411

Pesticides and health hazards Facts and figures [PDF]. (2012). Hamburg, Germany: PAN Germany.

Relate to Autism: Helping parents help children. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2016, from http://www.relatetoautism.com/index.php?subform=article

Shelton, J. F., Hertz-Picciotto, I., & Pessah, I. N. (2012, July 1). EHP – Tipping the Balance of Autism Risk: Potential Mechanisms Linking Pesticides and Autism. Retrieved April 12, 2016, from http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1104553/#r75

Ting, T. X., Lee, L. W., Low, H. M., Kok, N. H., & Chee, A. K. (2014). Prevalence, diagnosis, treatment and research on autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in Singapore and Malaysia [PDF]. The International Journal of Special Education.

Watts, M. (2013). Poisining Our Future: Children And Pesticides [PDF]. Penang, Malaysia: Pesticide Action Network Asia & the Pacific.

Won, J. L., & Eun, S. C. (2009). J Rural Med 2009; 4 (2): 53ñ58 ©2009 The Japanese Association of Rural Medicine Review Overview of Pesticide Poisoning in South Korea [Scholarly project]. In The Berne Declaration. Retrieved April 11, 2016, from https://www.ladb.ch/fileadmin/files/documents/Syngenta/Paraquat/Overview_of_Pesticide_Poisoning_in_South_Korea.pdf

Z.A., Z. N., Hashim, Z., & D, B. (2015). Environmental Exposure of Organophosphate Pesticides Mixtures and Neurodevelopment of Primary School Children In Tanjung Karang, Malaysia [PDF]. University Putra Malaysia, Selangor, Malaysia: Asia Pacific Environmental and Occupational Health Journal.

Empowered Farmers Ensure Food Safety

“Farming without pesticides is far more economical and safer for farmers and consumers. This has led me to harvest my first pesticides-free crop of cabbages,” thus said Mr. Vellusamy who had undergone the Farmer Field School (FFS) carried out in Blue Valley, Cameron Highlands in 2015.

The FFS is an initiative by the PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) that aims to develop the capacity of farmers in making informed decisions based on their experience of observing, conducting experiments and monitoring of their farms. It also involves the participation of scientists, extension officers and experts in the field of agriculture to provide input and work with the farmers for viable solutions to the problems they face on the farm.

The focus of this particular FFS in Blue Valley was to incorporate biological control instead of harmful pesticides to deal with the infestation of the Diamond Back Moth among cabbages. According to a published research by entomologist Dr Peter Ooi, the moth causes significant damage to the crop and was discovered as early as 1925 in Cameron Highlands.

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Learn making organic liquid fertiliser.

PANAP started the FFS to help farmers lessen their dependency on chemical inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers manufactured by agribusiness which put our food safety in danger. Farmers also often lose their ability to make sound decisions based on their knowledge of agriculture and instead rely entirely on agriculture extension officers, and sellers as well as distributors of agrochemicals to carry out their agriculture practice. Clearly, it is profitable for agribusinesses but not the farmers who put themselves and consumers at great risk by using these chemical inputs.

The ramification of pesticides usage in Cameron Highlands was revealed in a study conducted by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in Cameron Highlands from 2014 to 2015. The study discovered that the rivers and tap water in Cameron had traces of highly toxic persistent organic pollutants such as endosulfan, which have been banned in Malaysia and globally under the Stockholm Convention.

The FFS in Blue Valley is part of the campaign, ‘Protect Our Children from Toxic Pesticides’ to raise awareness about the harmful impact of pesticides on human health particularly children. “These hazardous pesticides are extremely toxic to children and are linked to birth defects, learning disabilities, lowered I.Q. scores and cancer” said Deeppa Ravindran, Coordinator of the Protect Our Children from Toxic Pesticides Campaign.

“We must not lose sight of how profit-driven, corporate agricultural production dictates the type of food available, most of which have been produced with heavy dosage of pesticides that damage the environment and people’s health, especially children,” said PANAP executive director Sarojeni Rengam.

Recently, PANAP published ‘Replacing Chemicals with Biology:Phasing out highly hazardous pesticides with Agroecology’ which provides a wealth of case studies and data that proves farmers can make more money, ensure food safety and improve their health, and protect the environment by not using pesticides. PANAP along with Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International has also started a global petition urging governments and corporations to take concrete steps towards the phaseout and ban of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) and to replace these with safe, sustainable and ecological alternative methods of pest control in order to protect children’s health.

Please contact Wong Pei Chin at 017 725 1758 or pei.panap@gmail.com for further details.

PANAP renews call for tighter regulation of agrochemicals and ban of highly hazardous pesticides amid batu gajah poisoning

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PENANG, Malaysia – PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) today renewed its call for authorities to more tightly regulate agrochemicals and ban the highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) amid reports of pesticide poisoning in Siputeh, Batu Gajah in Ipoh. Thirty seven people, aged two to 71, were rushed to the hospital – with four in critical condition – after eating food apparently contaminated with the pesticides from carbamate group from a local stall last 4 March. Weedicides were also traced near the premises.

“The tragedy illustrates the toxic effects of pesticides that are often acute and irreversible,” PANAP Executive Director, Sarojeni Rengam said. She also noted that the test conducted by the Department of Chemistry did not identify the specific type of pesticide but only looked at the general chemical group called carbamates.

“Therefore, we call for more stringent tests to identify the particular pesticide behind the poisoning for more rigorous regulation and hopefully, even making the manufacturers accountable,” added Rengam.

Pesticides from the carbamate group are generally neurotoxic and have been associated with adverse effects on human development, affecting both babies and children.

“People and children are continuously being poisoned by pesticides, and children are particularly more vulnerable. This must stop and authorities need to make necessary steps to protect and give children a save and healthy environment “ says Deeppa Ravindran, coordinator of the Protect Our Children from Toxic Pesticides Campaign.

Pesticides are widely rampant and sold in Malaysia, in the recent study done by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) in Cameron Highlands found highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) like Endrin,Aldrin, DDE and Endosulfan has been found in drinking water.

PANAP, together with PAN International, and other groups have launched an appeal to ban HHPs worldwide. More than 430 organizations from over 80 countries in all regions of the world have already signed the appeal. “We urge the public to support our campaign and sign the petition. The incident in Batu Gajah makes even more compelling our collective appeal to the government and agrochemical corporations to phase out the HHPs and protect our people, especially the children,” said Rengam. ###

Petition Link >>  HERE

For more information, please contact Deeppa Ravindran: deeppa.ravindran@panap.net

*Image courtesy of Keerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Joy Springs from Fierce Struggle

Her stories evoke the eloquent peace of a simple life in the countryside when she speaks of her modest routine. One may not have imagined that Biju’s fulfillment with her serene environment today was borne out of years of intense conflict and fierce struggle.

Biju Khand, 34, is from Bardaghat, Nawalparasi District, Nepal, a community composed of different ethnic groups such as Musahar and other minorities such as the Dalits. Landlessness is a major issue. Most residents work as laborers who till fields they do not own. The nearby community forest is an alternative source of livelihood, firewood timber and grass-fodder for cattle. Raising livestock is another source of the people’s income. Land, however, is increasingly being utilized for agricultural and commercial development by the so-called elites in rampant cases of landgrabbing.

Biju’s entries to the Women’s Travelling Journal project provide meticulous details of her day starting from the exact hour she wakes up, up to the specific succession of daily tasks she has set herself to accomplish. She views her world with a keen eye as she vividly writes down notes on rural life and struggle.