Pesticides: Killer or Lifesaver?
IPN Press release
A new report released by the Environmental Justice Foundation in the UK has called for the phase-out of pesticides in poor countries.  The Sustainable Development Network, a coalition of non-governmental organizations and individuals who believe that real sustainable development is about promoting progress and eliminating poverty by empowering people through decentralized ownership and property rights, the rule of law, and free trade, questions the conclusions of the report:
The report is fundamentally flawed. The report makes many misleading and unscientific claims that are not supported by relevant scientific assessments of the role of pesticides and their impact on health. Whilst enthusiastically promoting the phase-out of pesticides, the report fails to take into consideration the impact this would have on poor people:
Pesticides save lives. By increasing agricultural yields, pesticides have helped countries such as India become self-sufficient in food production.
Barun Mitra, Director the Liberty Institute (a member of the Sustainable Development Network) in New Delhi, India, comments: "Indian farmers should be free to choose whatever technology is appropriate for their situation. Pesticides save lives by increasing yields and thereby bringing food to the needy."
If these pesticides are banned, millions of people will die from tropical diseases. Pesticides remain important tools for public health in many poor countries. According to Richard Tren, Director of Africa Fighting Malaria in Johannesburg, South Africa (also part of the SD Network): "The benefits of these chemicals to public health programs in poor countries are clea. For example, DDT is vital to fighting malaria because it is the cheapest and most effective alternative for controlling the Anopheles mosquito."
Tren says that if DDT were to be banned, millions of children would needlessly suffer: "Although there are risks to using DDT, the risk of malaria is far greater."
Poor countries should not have to choose between saving human lives and obeying the wishes of donor countries by banning pesticides.
In place of modern agriculture, the EJF advocates "organic" farming. Yet many such practices have real risks too. In India, about 500 million rural farmers eke out a living by practicing 'organic' subsistence agriculture. They use cow manure and urine as fertilizers, exposing women and children to deadly pathogens every day. For pest removal, they weed by hand, leading to horrible back and knee injuries.
While organic agriculture may be preferred by some wealthy Europeans, poor farmers should be free to choose and use modern technology. NGOs, industry and governments should reconsider their strategy: they should seek to educate and enable farmers in the appropriate use of chemicals, rather than condemning them to further poverty and exposure to disease.