Highly hazardous pesticides

© Fabio Erdos/Panos
Approximately three million tonnes of pesticides active ingredients are applied worldwide every year, an amount that has been constantly increasing over the past three decades, especially in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), which now account for over half of pesticide use.

Brazil, China and Argentina alone account for about 40% of all volumes used in 2017. This reflects the large expansion of the agricultural area that has occurred in many LMICs and the transformation of agriculture as a result of the “Green revolution” and trade liberalization policies. Baskut Tuncak, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and toxics:

“This massive use of highly hazardous pesticides in LMICs is tragically a case of exploitation, a false narrative of development that is a far cry from anything sustainable”

Pesticides are poisons, designed to kill living organisms such as pests and weeds. The barriers between those organisms and humans, however, are by no means impermeable. Farmers and agricultural workers are at higher risk because of their direct and repeated exposure to pesticides. People living close to agricultural lands and plantations also face toxic exposure as pesticides are often used close to their homes, schools or workplaces. The wider population is exposed every day through pesticide residues in food, drinking water, air, rain and dust. In short, no one is untouched by pesticide exposure.

What are the consequences? Public Eye investigated this toxic, but very lucrative business for several months.

A daily wadge worker sprays pesticide in the field of a local farmer in Yavatmal. © Atul Loke / Panos Pictures
Every year millions of people are poisoned by pesticides. They are unaware of the dangers posed by toxic chemicals or simply lack access to protective equipment.