Farm women march to Parliament

GroundUp writes that over 200 farm women braved the rain and cold to march to Parliament in Cape Town on Tuesday. Under the banner of the Women on Farms Project (WFP), they carried placards that read: “Don’t poison us” and “Ban pesticides now”. The protest was over a decision by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to renege on a promise to phase out harmful pesticides by June 2024.

Police threw stun grenades at the women after they broke past the police line at the gates of Parliament. Some women threw their placards over the gates, some of which were thrown back. They also threw water at the police. Using their shields, police pushed the women back. In April 2022, the department gave notice that certain pesticides, including chemicals linked to cancer, genetic mutations, and harmful to reproductive health, would be phased out and banned by this month.

In September 2022, we reported that the department was in talks with the industry about this. But instead of phasing out pesticides, the department recently gazetted guidelines for applicants to apply for “derogation” of a “substance of concern” and be granted an exemption to use the pesticides. In a memorandum, the Women on Farms Project (WFP) said the guidelines do not provide the criteria the department’s registrar will use to decide on the registration of pesticides; that there is an “unreasonably short” period of 30 days to provide any comments on applications; and that there is no appeals process for interested parties, such as farm workers, after a decision is made.

“This move allows rich, resourced, and powerful corporations to undermine the safety and well-being of our agricultural workers and communities,” the memorandum reads. The memorandum demands that pesticides already banned in the EU also be banned in South Africa, and that the registrar, Jonathan Madzunga, meet with the workers urgently. The farm women say the new regulations were made without consulting them. Colette Solomon, director at WFP, said farm workers have been “totally excluded now from the decision-making”. They “feel like their health interests have been totally overlooked”.

“To us it really does seem like it is a buckling of government to the interests of commercial farmers and, more importantly, to pesticide companies,” said Solomon. “We won’t let them forget about the most important people in the equation – farm workers and dwellers,” she told the crowd. Seasonal farm worker Engela Masobeng said: “You work here and right there the tractor is spraying.” If farm workers can grow crops without pesticides, then farmers also can, she said. No one received the memorandum at Parliament. The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development had not responded to GroundUp’s questions at the time of publication.

by Liezl Human

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