Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
September 25, 1998
Serious public health and environmental problems related to pesticide use exist in both Nicaragua and Guatemala, according to a recent report from the Danish Agency for International Development (DANIDA). The report found that while precise data on health effects remains elusive, new estimates place the annual acute illness rate due to pesticides in the range of 11,000 to 30,000 cases in Guatemala. In Nicaragua, estimates of annual poisonings are approximately 10,000 cases. (Nicaragua's population is about four million, and Guatemala's is nearly 10 million.)
Pesticide imports to Nicaragua and Guatemala declined in the 1980s, due largely to the collapse of Central American cotton production and a decade long political and economic crisis. However, the report found that imports of agrochemicals began to increase again by the mid-1990s as both countries expanded agricultural exports in attempts to solve economic problems. The report's analysis of import data uncovered disturbing evidence of continued reliance on pesticides classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as Class 1A ("extremely hazardous") and 1B ("highly hazardous"). In both countries, quantities of these pesticides as a percentage of total pesticide imports has not changed significantly from preceding decades.
While legislation exists to regulate pesticide use in Nicaragua and Guatemala, the report found that progress to reduce risks associated with pesticide use has been countered by the declining role of the state in both countries, exemplified by cuts in government staff. This has been coupled with increasing emphasis on export-led economic growth which, in the case of agriculture, means a potentially greater dependence on pesticides.
The report outlines specific recommendations for DANIDA including directing Danish development assistance in the agricultural sector toward greater reliance on alternative pest control strategies such as integrated pest management. It also recommended altering agricultural credit supports to reduce what is presently almost exclusive reliance by Central American governments and private lending institutions on pesticide-based pest control methods. As an alternative, the report stresses the need for organic production and marketing initiatives.
The authors of the report recognize that for change to occur in Nicaragua and Guatemala, action must also be taken internationally. To achieve this goal, they recommend international pressure to curb the production, sale and use of WHO Category 1A and 1B pesticides as well as pressure to alter multilateral lending institutions' policies and practices that favor chemical-intensive agricultural development. At the same time, there must be support for alternative and fair trade initiatives.
DANIDA is currently funding a seven country project called PLAGSALUD, designed to address health problems in Central America caused by pesticides. The agency is also developing a major agriculture sector support program with Nicaragua based on the report's findings.
"Pesticide Problems in Nicaragua and Guatemala, and Opportunities for their Reduction," was written under contract for the Danish government by Development and Equity, a Colorado-based consulting cooperative specializing in technical assistance to sustainable development initiatives.
Source: Pesticide News, September 1998.