Experts can’t agree on aerial-spray ills

August 24, 2009 at 1:31 am 1 comment

GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) Updated August 24, 2009

Fruit growers in Mindanao are going bananas. They need to repel the spread of unseen but disastrous fungi if they are to go on exporting banana by the billions of tons. But a drive to ban aerial spraying of pesticides is hemming them in from the other side. The Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association has had to fight in one branch of government after another. In mid-2007 a study paid for by the Dept. of Health concluded that spray chemicals were poisoning villages around banana plantations. Davao City promptly passed an ordinance against aerial spraying, affecting a tenth of the 50,000 hectares devoted to banana in the Davao region. A year-and-a-half later last Jan. the PBGEA won a restraining order from the Court of Appeals. But this came only after two plantations totaling 200 hectares were forced to shut down, ravaged by the leaf-rotting sigatoka fungus. Now come twin bills in the Senate and House of Representatives to ban pesticide aerial spraying nationwide. For the fruit growers, aerial spraying is the thriftiest and, they claim, the safest way to stem the sigatoka tide. Without it, they see the collapse of their billion-dollar industry.

The fight over aerial spraying is one of experts versus experts. Led by Dr. Allan Dionisio, 11 occupational and clinical toxicologists wrote the 2007 DOH report on pesticide poisoning. Previously they had trained at the U.P. in pediatrics, neurology, psychiatry, community and family medicine, and public health. The state of residents of banana plantation-side Sitio Camocaan in Hagonoy was compared with those of faraway Sitio Baliwaga in Sta. Cruz, both in Davao del Sur province. Their findings appeared to confirm an earlier study of activist Dr. Romeo Quijano. Some Camocaan folk were suffering from blood, digestive and skin ailments due to regular exposure to aerial sprays.

Refuting them are equally eminent doctors, chemists and engineers. DOH Undersecretary Paulyn Russel-Ubial pooh-poohed the Quijano and Dionisio papers as inconclusive because done on only one tiny community. In Davao recently Dr. Antonio Ligsay, an advocate of higher standards in health research, frowned on biased conclusions coming ahead of findings. Dr. Patricio Hernane, Hagonoy town health officer, said the alleged afflicted Camocaan residents could not be verified. Supposedly Dionisio reneged on promises to refer to him those who needed medical attention.

Fungicide experts and government regulators have joined the fray. Supposedly they will be the first to reject chemicals that harm farm workers and banana customers. But there are no complaints of toxins by local labor unions or government officials from Japan, the Philippines’ biggest banana buyer. “So they have nothing to reject,” says Anthony Sasin, PBGEA spokesman.

Flight planners add that aerial spraying is so precise that there hardly is any wasteful drift. Spraying is done in the early morning when wind is light, and only after due notices to nearby communities. Airplanes are fitted with modern gadgets to pinpoint exact segments of the plantation to be sprayed. On land and onboard, global positioning systems trigger the spray’s on-off electronic switches so that chemicals do not spill onto water or roadways. The spray is 85-percent water, with soluble wax to make the desired number of droplets per square-inch stick to the banana leaf. Banning aerial spraying would force the growers to revert to the old, tedious ground spraying. If their fungicides indeed were harmful, Sasin said, then the ground spraying would be worse because usually six to 11 times more saturated.

Health and community NGOs are leading the crusade to ban aerial spraying totally. PBGEA president Stephen Antig shudders at the prospect. The particularly nasty black sigatoka fungus has begun to invade Davao’s hillsides. It feeds on banana leaves and within days can dry up a tree. When the number of an infected tree’s leaves drop to less than 12, fruiting is cut in half. Left unchecked by aerial spraying, the black sigatoka can wipe out contiguous plantations within a year.

The NGOs couldn’t care less. Citing Quijano and Dionisio’s findings, they say people’s health should come first before bananas’. Health is a constitutional right, they aver as they assail the growers’ pure profit motive. But to that, Antig and Sasin ask: what health will the NGOs guarantee if 100,000 farm workers and many more related entrepreneurs lose their source of livelihood?

Perhaps a third set of experts, neutral this time, must come in to referee the fight.

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“Being alone is not as welcome as being left alone. Those who fear to be alone will fear being left alone.” Shafts of Light, Fr. Guido Arguelles, SJ

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Entry filed under: GOTCHA by Jarius Bondoc. Tags: , , , , , .

Was the Filipino worth dying for? Palasyo bistado sa pagbubulaan

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. elvie  |  November 5, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    i live in tibal-og, sto.tomas davao del norte for almost 3 years (2005-2007) with my 4 elementary children, we now transferred in tagum city. tibal-og is a first class municipality that accommodates thousands of hectares of banana plantation. Everyday we experienced airplane roaring very near over our roof and over our heads at around 6-8am the very time the children need to go to school and the people to their work. i even experienced, while traveling along the public highway in the middle of the plantation that an airplane released “brownish-orange” fumes to us, whatever was that was a cause to fear. so, besides the fear of whatever chemicals they sprayed on the banana plantations nearby and the “unknown drift” that we inhaled and bathed, the roaring sounds of airplane daily is already a cause to complain. the warning on aerial spraying is not religiously done by the plantation management, the warning billboards thinly scattered in the area is left blank on supposed dates and time of spraying. besides, warning billboards manifest that there are communities in a no-buffer plantations. I went to FPA-Tagum to check if someone from them attended on this aerial spraying, but was saddened because only two employees are detailed to the whole province of davao del norte every tuesday and only one employee left for the whole week of office activities.


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