MASIPAG’s Call For Action on the Anniversary of the Bhopal Tragedy: Climate Justice and Phasing Out Highly Hazardous Pesticides at COP28

December 3, 2023

by MASIPAG National Office

On this day in 1984, the quiet city of Bhopal in India was turned into a massive gas chamber after a gas leak from the US subsidiary-owned pesticide factory Union Carbide India Ltd which claimed 3,000 lives, with 25,000 more dead in the aftermath. Called as the biggest industrial accident in living memory, 39 years after the Bhopal tragedy, justice remains bleak to the victims and the corporate world is still business as usual in manufacturing these highly hazardous pesticides further introducing it to marginalized communities by lobbying it to public entities.

The devastating consequences that arise from the use of highly hazardous pesticides can no longer be understated and blindsided by our duty-bearers and global leaders. As they convene under COP28 to talk about the future of humanity amid the climate crisis, MASIPAG forwards the call to once and for all phase out all highly hazardous pesticides in achieving climate justice.

In the Philippines, the use of pesticides such as Glyphosate by Monsanto is tied to the use of GM corn. Three years ago, Alcala town in Cagayan province experienced devastating 15-meter-high floodwaters. Local scientists and farmers accurately identified the culprits of the flood: the use of herbicides in GM corn farming killed the vegetation, exposing the soil and ultimately damaging the capacity of the land to absorb water leading to the clogging and boating of Alcala’s waterways.

In a study conducted by MASIPAG in the corn farms in Capiz, Philippines, glyphosate residues were seen in the soil and nearby water resources as well as the corn grains produced from the studied farms. Horrendously, farmers utilizing glyphosate were also found to be contaminated as evidenced by glyphosate residues from their urine samples.

Further, already exploited workers in plantations and children from the nearby communities on the island of Mindanao continuously suffer from acute to severe poisoning due to pesticide application. The highly dangerous Paraquat and Glyphosate can cause coma, seizures, respiratory failure, and even death are the plantations’ top pesticides of choice.

The dangers of pesticides not only stimulate problems of health and the environment but also in land ownership, culture, and labor violations. Indigenous, traditional, and farmer knowledge of pest management and collective work such as Bayanihan are being replaced by highly hazardous pesticides.

Among corporate-owned plantations and haciendas, the hunger for profit is satiated by lessening production costs through the rampant use of pesticides, thereby displacing the workforce. Unfair and positivist land policies also complement the unsustainable expansion of plantations sustained by pesticides. Indigenous communities and ancestral domains failed because of the inefficiency of state laws upholding their rights are displaced and dispossessed of their lands to pave the way for “economic growth” through the expansion of these plantations.

While the world plans to reduce pesticide use by 50% by 2030 highlighting the urgent need to reverse environmental degradation brought by chemical farming. On the other hand, the wide introduction of GM crops more than 20 years ago up until today led to intensified pesticide, herbicide, and other chemical inputs use and increased emergence of super pests in the environment. Scientists have been warning the world that the ongoing chemical pollution majorly driven by chemical agriculture has exceeded the safe limits for humanity and is now a grave threat to the stability of global ecosystems.

As of 2022, many new GM crops currently in the commercialization pipeline globally are designed to increase herbicide news. A review made by the European Joint Research Centre (JRC) found that many of the new GM crops closed to commercialization are herbicide-tolerant.

MASIPAG calls upon the delegates and participants of COP28 to prioritize discussions on the phaseout of highly hazardous pesticides. The international community must work collaboratively to develop and implement robust policies and regulations that restrict and ultimately eliminate the use of these dangerous substances. It is incumbent upon us to learn from the lessons of the past and strive for a sustainable and equitable future. By advocating for a comprehensive and accelerated phaseout of highly hazardous pesticides, we can contribute to building a safer world for current and future generations.

MASIPAG reiterates its stand for a pesticide-free world that can only be achieved through the sustainable use and management of biodiversity through farmers’ control of genetic and biological resources, agricultural production and associated knowledge, and genuine agrarian reform. A farmer-led agricultural production would approach pests as ecological rather than unnatural; pest management instead of pesticides. Further, the shift to a farmer-led agricultural production would even decrease the possibility of a wide-scale pest’s emergence as it upholds balanced biodiversity therefore leaving no room for sudden destructive behavior changes from the ‘pests’ organisms.