I spent the first week of April in Montevideo, Uruguay with PAN colleagues from around the world, pressing for global action on hazardous pesticides.
This was a meeting of the “Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management” (SAICM), an arena for international coordination on toxic chemicals which PAN has been engaged in since 2006, when the process was initiated. It’s historically been a challenge to make pesticides a global priority in this forum, but thanks to growing public awareness about the harms of pesticides and persistent advocacy by our PAN International network, this finally seems to be changing.
Bringing reality into the room
It’s always fascinating to be in these international policy spaces. In this particular process, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are on equal footing with government officials from around the world, representatives from UN agencies like the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and industry folks.
The focus of the Uruguay meeting was what SAICM will look like beyond 2020, when the original mandate of the forum will expire. We joined our colleagues in the IPEN network in calling for a more action-oriented policy arena, where civil society organizations continue to have a seat at the table.
We also took every opportunity to remind the delegates that real people — farmers, farmworkers and rural families — are being harmed by hazardous pesticides, every day.
Advocacy in action
So what exactly does it look like to show up in a forum like this?
Our job as NGOs is reminding the government officials that choices made in these negotiating halls matter out in the world; that their decisions could help shift us away from the pesticide treadmill that’s only benefiting a handful of corporations.
Our team took turns making statements to this effect, translated into six official UN languages and transmitted to a “plenary” room of more than 300 officials from around the world. Here’s an excerpt from the opening statement from the founding director of PAN Asia-Pacific, Sarojeni Rengam:
PANAP recently carried out monitoring programs in seven Asian countries and found that 70% of farmers are suffering acute pesticide poisoning. This is an outrageous situation. . . We ask all countries and stakeholders to bear this serious situation in mind during the discussions over the next few days.
We also distributed materials at a booth, including the PAN International list of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs), our annual survey of what pesticides have been banned in which countries, and reports from each region documenting pesticide exposures and health effects. And we shared our position statement on agroecology (in four languages).
Phasing out HHPs: A “side event”
On the final day of the meeting, PAN hosted a conversation over the lunch break (a “side event” in UN-speak) about the urgent need to phase out HHPs. Speakers included the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights, government officials from Tuvalu and Cote d’Ivoire, and several members of the PAN team.
Sarojeni presented results of PANAP’s monitoring in Asia, and Susan Haffmans of PAN Germany presented evidence that her country was regularly exporting pesticides that are not allowed for use in the European Union. Her office will release a full report on this “double standard” in pesticide trade soon.
And the Argentinian-based coordinator of PAN Latin American (RAPAL), Javier Souza, presented evidence that agroecology is a viable, scalable approach to farming that is finding success across the southern cone.
Together, we urged delegates to add their names to our call for a global phase out of HHPs, a petition which has been endorsed by 564 organizations in 111 countries around the world; thousands of individuals have signed on to support this call to action as well.
We're encouraging our U.S. supporters to sign on now, as this global petition is to be shared later this month at the next UN forum where PAN International will be showing up to make our case: the meetings of the Basel, Stockholm and Rotterdam chemical conventions in Geneva. More voices underscoring the urgency of the problem will keep momentum building for action on HHPs.