Pesticides and the colonial question


This text was written by Ubai Al-Aboudi, Executive Director of the Bisan Center for Research and Development and researcher in the field of socio-economic rights.

Colonialism is not only a historic event that belongs to the history books, its ramifications and legacies of racism, plunder of natural resources and the subjugation of former colonies markets and productive sectors to the needs and interests of the colonizers are still haunting us till today.

The problems that colonialism has created did not arise from the racism that accompanied it although it exasperated its affects, it came from the very nature of capitalism that seeks the perpetual accumulation of wealth to the few with total disregard to the human and environmental costs it extorts from current and future generations. This notion of accumulation led to the industrial revolution which saw increased production and productivity to realize higher and higher profits.

Harmful to health and the environment

And this notion did not stop at the industrial sector but spread to all other sectors in the economy. Thus the ideas of mass production, intensive input utilization and quick investment realization cycles has spread from the industrial sector to all other economic sectors in society and created what we define as the mono-capitalist agriculture.

With the advent of mono-capitalist agriculture, the use of chemical pesticides has become associated with agriculture. There was little knowledge or care for the health effects of these chemicals, at least up to 50 years ago. But increased knowledge and research has gradually led to the understanding that the use of these chemicals causes severe health problems for the farmers and agricultural workers that use them, and the understanding that the use of chemicals has led to the production of contaminated food, and as a result the increase of health problems among humans, such as the spread of serious diseases including kidney failure, liver problems and cancerous tumors.

On the other hand, the agricultural environment has been severely affected by the intensive use of these chemicals. Biodiversity has severely declined in areas where pesticides were used. It is even possible to say that humans have been living in a polluted environment that not only affects the current generations but also puts the very future existence of the Human species at risk.

Banned here, imported elsewhere

At the heart of this issue is the production of pesticides in developed countries by agrochemical corporations. This kind of production especially in the E.U is heavily regulated, but unfortunately there is gap between the regulations that control the production of pesticides and the regulations that control their use and sale. Prime examples of these is the production of the pesticides of CYPRIN  produced in Switzerland, POLICE produced in Luxembourg, Evisects produced in Belgium and PLICTRAN which is also produced in Luxemburg.

These pesticides that have been banned for use in the E.U for their toxic hazards that include being highly toxic to aquatic life, highly toxic to aquatic life with long-term effects, high toxicity effects on the liver and kidney, affects the reproductive system in both males and females, in addition to reducing reproductive capacity.

Unfortunately these pesticides are still being produced and exported to countries outside the E.U such as Palestine with no regard to their effects on health and environment. Such practices remind us of colonial era practices that focused on profit maximization with little to no regard for the wellbeing of the people of the colonies.

Pesticides in Palestine

These were the results of a research conducted by Bisan center for Research and Development on the presence of banned pesticides in the West Bank, which is published in September 2022.

The research also shows that a number of pesticides banned by the Palestinian Authority have been found in Palestinian markets despite that these pesticides were not being imported directly. Data collected from interviews with Palestinian farmers and some owners of pesticides shops show that some of the sources of these pesticides come from the Israeli market, especially from agricultural settlements. Thus the export of pesticides is not only an issue of health and environment but also becomes an issue of the lack of sovereignty by the State of Palestine over its land and border crossings.

It should also be noted that residual chemicals from these pesticides were found in fruits and vegetables being exported to the E.U thus the continued production and export of these pesticides does not only harm the populations of the countries that keep importing these pesticides but also harms the populations of countries exporting them.

There are alternatives

The continued use of chemicals in agriculture is unsustainable and harmful to everyone on this planet, alternative agricultural production methods are already known and developed through the use of agroecology, sustainable agriculture and polyculture. The mono-capitalist intensive agricultural model has reached its historic limits, it cannot provide increased agricultural output without causing severe deterioration to the wellbeing of humanity and future generations. Thus creating alternatives, applying the same standards for the export of pesticides as for their imports becomes a critical issue for the sustainability of our planet.