As the tractors rolled in yesterday, community members gathered along the road to protest. They are engaging in a much larger action this morning in order to stop workers from breaking ground. Local leaders have called the police, the Ministry of the Environment, and members of the press. Representatives from Voices, ACUDESBAL, ADIBAL, CESTA and other civil society organizations are also present.
The Law on the Environment requires that agricultural projects like large-scale sugarcane production should receive an environmental permit before they begin. The process for getting a permit requires an environmental impact statement, public hearings and other steps that are to ensure an activity does not harm the environment or surrounding communities. The Law on Protected Areas also requires that most if not all of the 680 acres should be designated a buffer zone due to its proximity to the mangrove forests and turtle nesting grounds.
Community leaders were hoping to stop the sugarcane production using the law and political process. Unfortunately, those systems still don’t work for peasant communities and residents are having to take more direct action, such as cutting off access to the region.
As mentioned in yesterday’s post, communities oppose sugarcane production because the adverse affects that agrochemicals and burning fields will have on the region’s mangrove forest and undeveloped beaches where at least four variety of sea turtles nest. The land targeted for sugarcane production is adjacent to some of the most pristine mangrove forests in Central America. Any agrochemicals sprayed or used on the sugarcane will immediately drift or leach into mangroves via a tidal estuary that comes within 100 feet of the field. The leaching agrochemicals will carry the toxic agrochemicals through the forest, killing vegetation and the wildlife.
The two communities that will be most affected are La Tirana and Monte Cristo, both of which are located in the mangroves and depend on crab (punches in Spanish), clams, and fish for their survival. The town of San Juan del Gozo will also be adversely affected as the sugarcane production will contaminate the pond, rivers, and forests where residents life and work.
Naún Diaz, a community leader from La Tirana says the forests sustain them – if the mangroves are healthy, the people are healthy. But if the mangroves are weak the people cannot survive. So when residents go out to block the road this morning, they will be defending their very existence.
(we will most an update later today or tomorrow with news on this mornings activities)
Residents learned a couple weeks ago that don Angel Velasquez, a wealthy landowner on the San Juan del Gozo Peninsula, is leasing 400 manzanas (989 acres) in La Tirana to a sugarcane producer, who has been out preparing the land for planting. A contact in the neighboring town of San Juan del Gozo confirmed that don Angel, as he is known, is leasing the land out for 15 years.
The 400 manzanas they want to plant is adjacent to one of El Salvador’s most pristine mangrove forests. Locals who live in and take care of the forest say it would be impossible to grow sugarcane in the region without destroying the fragile ecosystem. The estuary that flows through the forest comes very close the fields where they want to plant. Any agrochemicals applied to the area would certainly leach into the estuary and quickly contaminate large sections of the forests. One of the biggest threats would be Glyphosate, or Roundup, which growers spray on sugarcane to ensure that all the plants are ripe or ready to harvest at the same time. Roundup is a very effective herbicide (the sugarcane is genetically modified to be “Roundup Ready”) and would kill the plants and animals exposed.
The land don Angel is leasing should be zoned a buffer zone due to its proximity to the mangrove forests. That means that it should be illegal to use the land in a way that would harm the mangroves, which are a protected natural area. For many years don Angel has used the land for grazing a few head of cattle, but mostly it has lain fallow. Before civil war broke out in 1980 the stretch of land was used for growing cotton. But the environmental laws and regulations passed since the end of the war should protect the region. Recognizing the destructive practices associated with sugarcane production, Lina Pohl, the Minister of the Environment said during a July visit to the neighboring Bajo Lempa region of Jiquilisco, that she would not permit any new growing operations.
(In the Satellite image above, the fields visible along the coast are those planned for sugarcane production, all the way up to the mangrove forests, which are the dark green sections)
On Wednesday of this week community leaders from La Tirana and Monte Cristo, another community in the mangrove forests, met to discuss the sugarcane issue. The discussion focused not on whether they should oppose the plan – the consensus was that sugarcane production would be catastrophic – but how to stop it.
Recalling Environmental Minister Pohl’s statement during a July meeting that the Ministry would not allow for expansion of sugarcane production, leaders from Monte Cristo and La Tirana decided to write a letter asking her to intervene. Voices’ Field Director was at the meeting on Wednesday and on the spot he helped them type up a letter, which they printed and signed. Actually, it was a little more complicated than that. Our field director just happened to have a laptop and small printer with him. Typing the letter was easy but the community is not connected to the power grid, so they had to go to the one house in the community with electricity, which is generated by a small solar panel.
Residents of La Tirana and Monte Cristo are also organizing a watchdog group that will monitor Mr. Velasquez’s property. At the first sign that sugarcane growers are arriving with their tractors and machinery to plow, the communities will block the only road in and out of the region. They are also planning a to ensure everyone in the region knows they will do anything necessary to protect the mangrove forests.
While La Tirana, Monte Cristo, and Voices were the only communities and organizations at the meeting, community leaders will also tap into a much larger network for support. In May, fourteen communities along the peninsula created the Association of Mangrove Communities in Defense of Land (ACOMADET) to ensure proper management of their forests and defend against threats such as tourism, sugarcane, and other development activities. ACOMADET also has the backing of civil society organizations like CESTA, ACUDESBAL, ADIBAL, Voices on the Border, and others. So they have support in taking on this issue.
One other action proposed on Wednesday was that local leaders should go talk to don Angel about how destructive his leasing the land to sugarcane growers would be. Meeting participants pointed out that in addition to contaminating the mangroves in and around La Tirana and Monte Cristo, it would affect a lagoon in San Juan del Gozo, of which he owns a large section. The idea of talking to don Angel was dismissed, however. Residents believe that El Salvador’s wealthy landowners are only interested in money, and that they don’t care about the environment or the impact of their actions on other people. They decided that negotiating with him would be fruitless.
One meeting participant pointed out that pressure to grow sugarcane in El Salvador is one of the many negative products of the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Under the agreement, the United States has increased the amount of sugarcane it will buy from El Salvador making it one of the only ways to make money in agriculture. Small Salvadoran farmers cannot compete with large US farms that produce large quantities of beans, rice, corn and other products, but they can make money selling or leasing their land to sugarcane growers.
After the meeting on Wednesday, Voices field director took the letter signed by community members and will hand deliver it to the Minister of the Environment this morning. Community leaders hope she meant what she said in July about no new sugarcane operations. But they also know that money has a way of trumping regulations and that La Tirana, Monte Cristo, ACOMADET, and others will find other ways to protect the mangroves.
This year our Salvadoran partner communities and organizations asked Voices to join them in a national effort to ban a long list of agrochemicals, including Paraquat, DDT, and Toxaphene. Many of the chemicals are banned in other countries but continue to contaminate Salvadoran communities, resulting in high rates of renal failure, cancer, and other public health issues.
If you follow Voices on Facebook (if you don’t we’d love for you to join us) you might recall that a few weeks ago we posted a photo of communities in the Bajo Lempa, along with Voices staff, CESTA, and MOVIAC all meeting with FMLN representatives in the Legislative Assembly. Our partners were lobbying representatives to consider legislation that would ban a list of toxic agrochemicals. The meeting was successful and the representatives said they were interested in taking action.
On September 5, the Legislative Assembly took action – they passed a bill banning 53 toxic agrochemicals. It was great news and our partners celebrated it as a victory. There was more motivating the Legislative Assembly’s passage of the ban than our meeting. In recent weeks there has been a tragic story in the Salvadoran news about several barrels of agrochemcials that have contaminated the town of San Luis Talpa, killing at least 60 people. This story helped the FMLN put together a majority of votes to pass the Sept. 5th ban.
But since the law passed, CAMAGRO (the Chamber of Agriculture and Farmers), the rightwing ARENA party, ANEP (National Association of Private Business), and multinational corporations like Monsanto have been lobbying President Funes to veto the bill. They argue that the chemicals are necessary for coffee production and that there are other ways to protect the population from exposure. Funes seems to be hearing them out. He still hasn’t signed the ban into law and supporters of the ban are worried he might veto it.
Members of MOVIAC (the Movement of Victims Affected by Climate Change) held a press conference during which they demanded that President Funes sign the bill into law. They also responded to the argument that chemicals are necessary for cultivating coffee and other crops. In a statement released this morning, MOVIAC states, “Changing the agricultural model is fundamental in order to protect people and the environment, and for this reason the message is not only to policy makers, but to farmers that there exist other forms of cultivation that protect ecosystems and don’t need the use of fertilizers.”
So all sides are stepping up pressure on President Funes to sign or veto the bill. This is a very important issue in the Lower Lempa region of Usulután where large sugarcane plantations spray large quantities of agrochemicals, contaminating nearby fields, water resources, and local villages.
Below (in English and the original Spanish) is an op-ed piece that Voices’ Field Director Jose Acotsa published in the Diario Co-Latino about the ban on agrochemicals. Jose grew up farming in a rural community in Santa Ana and many in his family still grow crops on their small plots. Jose has also spent the past 20 years working with farmers in rural communities like the Bajo Lempa region of Usulután. His article reflects the majority of views and opinions of Voices’ partner communities, and has been widely circulated at the local level.
Here is Jose’s op/ed in English:
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Program defines food security as the condition in which people at all times have access to supplies of safe and nutritious food that is sufficient to meet their cultural preferences and nutritional needs for a healthy and active life.
Since the Legislature reformed the Law on the Control of Pesticides, Fertilizers, and Agricultural Products, to ban 53 agrochemicals, the CAMAGRO (Chamber of Agriculture and Farmer) and other rightwing parties and organizations that supposedly represent peasant farmers lobbied the President to veto the reforms. They argue that the reforms will have negative economic repercussions on families involved in agriculture and result in greater food insecurity.
Food security has been a problem for decades. The UNPD reports that 17% of rural households and 9.2% of urban households live in the state of food depravation, meaning their food consumption is less than the minimum needed to have the energy required to function properly – and these numbers are likely on the low end. Food security has been an issue with the use of agrochemicals and there is no evidence that the ban will make it worse.
The causes of food insecurity in El Salvador are structural, and include the imposition of the neoliberal economic model that promotes ending agricultural production for domestic use. Proponents of the neoliberal model say that free, open markets will provide the most food at the lowest prices. For this reason, El Salvador dismantled the institutions that supported the Salvadoran agriculture sector.
For example, the government got rid of the Institute of Supply Regulation (ARI, in Spanish), meaning it no longer has purchasing power that allowed it to protect prices for producers and consumers. Without the ARI, markets are exposed to competition with foreign grains; there are no import quotas; and import tariffs are drastically reduced – all creating a lucrative business for domestic importers putting thousands of families into poverty.
Unequal land distribution also has a negative impact on domestic agriculture and food security. Despite land reform, land transfers, and efforts by the current administration to help families get titles to their land, poor families still do not have sufficient access to land or the protections that ensure they can use the land they have in a sustainable and production manner.
The problem is not a ban on agrochemicals. The problem is with the agricultural model that has been forced upon us. The debate should not focus on the poisons that kill weeds, pests, or diseases. The questions should center around the causes of the pests and diseases, and what is causing weeds and diseases to become more invasive. The debate should focus on why people believe agrochemicals are even necessary. It appears that conventional agriculture is counter to nature.
Its now necessary to stake out a new relationship between agriculture and nature so that food production is in closer harmony with nature and achieves more of an ecological balance. Endless economic profits should not be the goal or motive, rather producing food in a sustainable manner, caring for the health of the soil, water, biodiversity, and people. Without question, the ban on agrochemicals is a bold step in the right direction.
A new agricultural paradigm also requires spiritual, ethical and moral values. When asked about the Church’s position on agrochemical issue, Archbishop Escobar Alas expressed quite clearly, “using a proper scale of values, life comes first.”
Here is the original Spanish:
La Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y Alimentación FAO, define seguridad alimentaria como una situación en la cual todas las personas tienen acceso en todo momento a alimentos suficientes, seguros y nutritivos para cubrir sus necesidades nutricionales y preferencias culturales para una vida sana y activa.
Ante las reformas a la Ley sobre Control de Pesticidas, Fertilizantes y Productos para uso Agropecuario, la CAMAGRO en conjunto con partidos de derecha y organizaciones presuntamente campesinas, han manifestado que si el Presidente no observa o veta tales reformas habrá repercusiones en la economía de las familias dedicadas a la agricultura, asimismo se afectará profundamente la seguridad alimentaria.
Sin embargo, la seguridad alimentaria está afectada desde hace décadas. El Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo, sostiene que el 17% de los hogares rurales y el 9.2% de los hogares de la zona urbana, viven en situación de privación alimentaria, lo que significa que consumen alimentos por debajo de las necesidades mínimas de energía que requiere el organismo para funcionar adecuadamente, lo cual demuestra que el uso de agroquímicos no soluciona el problema del hambre.
La inseguridad alimentaria del país tiene causas estructurales, una de ellas es la implementación del modelo neoliberal en el que prevaleció la idea de acabar con la agricultura nacional, porque el libre mercado se haría cargo de proveer los alimentos a precios más convenientes. De esta manera se desmontaron y desaparecieron las instituciones que apoyaban la agricultura.
Se suprimió el Instituto Regulador de Abastecimiento (IRA), eliminando el poder de compra estatal que aseguraba precios justos para el productor y para el consumidor. La desaparición del IRA provocó la liberalización total del mercado de granos básicos con el exterior, se eliminaron las cuotas de importación y se comenzó un proceso de reducción drástica de aranceles, generando un lucrativo negocio para los importadores nacionales y hundiendo en la pobreza a miles de familias campesinas.
Otro problema, que tiene mucha incidencia en la agricultura nacional, es la injusta distribución de la tierra. A pesar de la reforma agraria, transferencias de tierra y el proceso de legalización de propiedades, impulsado por el actual gobierno, el acceso a la tierra para los campesinos y la garantía de hacer un uso sostenible y productivo de la misma es un problema no resuelto.
No obstante, el problema de fondo es el modelo de agricultura que se nos ha impuesto; por tanto la discusión no debe centrarse en los venenos para eliminar hierbas, plagas o enfermedades, lo que hay que cuestionar es la causa de las plagas y enfermedades, debemos preguntarnos ¿Porqué las hierbas que crecen junto a los cultivos cada vez son más abundantes y agresivas? ¿Por qué cada vez es necesario utilizar más agroquímicos para obtener menores resultados? Evidentemente sucede porque la agricultura convencional actúa en contra de la naturaleza.
Ante este escenario es obligatorio replantear una nueva relación entre la agricultura y naturaleza, para que la producción de alimentos se comporte en armonía con el equilibrio ecológico, no se trata de generar lucro económico de forma ilimitada, si no de producir de forma sostenible, cuidando la base vital como lo es el suelo, el agua, la biodiversidad y la salud de las personas. Sin lugar a dudas con la prohibición de agroquímicos el país está dando un paso firme en la dirección correcta.
Un nuevo paradigma de la agricultura también requiere de valores espirituales, éticos y morales. Monseñor Escobar Alas, al ser consultado sobre la posición de la iglesia con respecto al tema de los agroquímicos, expresó con absoluta claridad… “En una adecuada escala de valores, la vida está en primer lugar”.
The Inter-Institutional Group of the Bajo Lempa region of Jiquilisco released a statement this afternoon in response to the passage of the Public-Private Partnership Law that passed through the Legislative Assembly last week. Their statement comes as the Salvadoran government announced that it is forming a commission to start organizing the first round of partnership agreements.
The Inter-Institutional group is comprised of several local and national development organizations working in the Bajo Lempa and Bay of Jiquilisco – they include organizations like ACUDESBAL (The United Communities of the Bajo Lempa), ADIBAL (Asociación para el Desarrollo Integral del Bajo Lempa), CESTA (Center for the Application of Sustainable Technology), ASPS (Salvadoran Association of Public Health), the Pastoral Team of the Lower Lempa, the Emergency Fund, and Voices on the Border. It also includes communities such as Amando Lopez, Comunidad Octavio Ortiz, La Tirana, Nueva Esperanza, and others.
Here is the Inter-Institutional Group’s statement, first an English translation and then the original Spanish.
PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP LAW
MORE POVERTY AND ENVIRONMENTAL DESTRUCTION
The Inter-Institutional group of civil society organziations of the Lower Lempa and communities in the municipality of Jaquilisco express our strong opposition to the Public-Private Partnerships Law, passed by the Legislative Assembly on Thursday May 23.
Neoliberal measures implemented in El Salvador have failed in every way. Privatization, dollarization and CAFTA-DR were supposed to create jobs and economic growth, but it never happened. Instead poverty, violence, environmental degradatoin and corruption increased significantly during the 4 ARENA governments that oversaw the implementation of these neoliberal policies. We deeply regret that our country continues to embrace the neoliberal agenda dictated by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the United States government, the principal “advisors” and promoters of the Public-Private Partnerships Law.
We recognize that the FMLN introduced important changes to the original bill, but at the same time it infuriates us that the party that once led a fierce opposition to the neoliberal agenda is now endorcing this type of law that provides state resources to transnational corporations whose only purpose is economic profit not the wellfare of the Salvadoran population, which has been marginalized throughout its history.
State resources such as the Comalapa International Airport, seaports, hydroelectric dams, highways and others are the property of all Salvadorans are likely to be endlessly exploited by private companies. Even worse is what can happen to the beaches, mangrove forests and nature reserves.
The Public Private Partnership law also paves the way for the second FOMILENIO, a megaproject that constitutes a series of threats to coastal ecosystems and their populations. Like the proposed gold mining projects and the construction of dams, the second FOMILENIO fund will provide large national and transnational corporations with economic benefit while providing the communities with economic and environmental problems.
Taking into account that all political parties lost credibility with the approval of the Law on Public Partnership Law and no longer represent the interests of the people, and we the below signed organizations and communities of the Lower Lempa once again reiterate our determination to defend our lives and territory until the ultimate consequences.
FOR THE DEFENSE OF LIFE AND THE TERRITORY
THE INTER-INSTITUTIONAL OF THE BAJO LEMPA
LEY DE ASOCIOS PÚBLICO PRIVADOS,
SAQUEO, POBREZA Y DESTRUCCIÓN AMBIENTAL
La Interinstitucional del Bajo Lempa (INTERBAL), integrada por organizaciones sociales y comunidades del municipio de Jiquilisco, expresamos nuestro más enérgico rechazo a la Ley de Asocios Público Privados aprobada por la Asamblea Legislativa, el jueves 23 de mayo.
Las medidas neoliberales aplicadas en El Salvador fracasaron en todo sentido, las promesas de empleo y de crecimiento económico que acompañaron las privatizaciones, la dolarización y la firma del CAFTA-DR, jamás se cumplieron y en su lugar la pobreza, la violencia, el deterioro del medio ambiente y la corrupción se incrementaron grandemente durante los 4 gobiernos de ARENA. Lamentamos profundamente que el país continúe asumiendo la “receta” neoliberal dictada por el Banco Mundial, El Fondo Monetario Internacional y el gobierno de Los Estados Unidos, principales “asesores” y promotores de esta Ley.
Tenemos conocimiento que el FMLN introdujo importantes modificaciones al proyecto de ley original, pero a la vez nos provoca indignación que el partido que fue férreo opositor a la doctrina neoliberal ahora avale este tipo de leyes que ofrecen recursos del Estado a empresas trasnacionales cuyo único fin es el lucro económico y no el bienestar de la población históricamente excluida.
Bienes como el aeropuerto, los puertos, presas hidroeléctricas, carreteras y otros que actualmente son propiedad de todos los salvadoreños y salvadoreñas serán susceptibles de ser explotados hasta la saciedad por empresas privadas; pero más grave aún es lo que puede pasar con las playas, los bosques de manglar y las reservas naturales.
Esta ley también abre el camino para el segundo FOMILENIO, megaproyecto que constituye una seria amenaza a los ecosistemas costeros del país y a la población. Al igual que los proyectos mineros y de construcción de represas, de concretarse el segundo FOMILENIO, grandes empresas, nacionales y trasnacionales saquearan los recursos de la zona, se quedaran con los beneficios económicos y las comunidades que habitan los territorios costeromarinos, serán desplazadas y abandonadas con muchos problemas.
Teniendo en cuenta que con la aprobación de la Ley de Asocios Público Privados todos los partidos políticos han perdido credibilidad y han dejado de representar los intereses de la población salvadoreña, las organizaciones y comunidades del Bajo Lempa reiteramos una vez más nuestra determinación a defender la vida y el territorio hasta las últimas consecuencias.
Small producers in El Salvador are facing a grim agricultural season this summer. Tropical Storm Agatha started off the rainy season with torrential rains that caused landslides and massive flooding along the coastal river basins. Last week’s Hurricane Alex brought more rain that further saturated the soil of already vulnerable communities.
The outlook for the rest of the rainy season doesn’t bode well either. Colorado State University, NOAA, and Climate Prediction Center (CPC) are predicting a very active hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean with an average of 18 tropical storms between June 1st and November 30th. These storms push ample amounts of rain and wind onto El Salvador, where 95% of the population is vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters.
In a discussion with Voices on the Border’s partner community Octavio Ortiz, in the Lower Lempa, Jiquilisco we can begin to understand what this means for small subsistence farmers.
In Octavio Ortiz 60 of the 97 families farm their own land; an average of 5 acres per family. Other community members work as day laborers, or in a handful of trade skills. With the land overly saturated, landowners can’t count on their own harvest for their year’s supply of corn, and the day laborers have been without work. The average pay is $4.00 for four or five hours of heavy manual labor.
Some families planted corn before Agatha and then lost it. A few of those families decided to re-plant, only to lose that seed to Alex. Very few farmers dare to try again, especially with the heaviest rains expected for July, September and October. After Alex, the community reported a loss of about 66 acres of corn. 680 chickens also died. No one had risked planting vegetables which are a much more expensive investment, so there was no need to report losses there. Most of the fruit trees survived the storm, but about 15 families had hoped to plant mango, cocoa, and lemon trees. They’re having trouble finding land where the young saplings won’t rot before they take hold.
Swampy fields also impact the backbone of the community’s economy – cattle. Traditionally the rainy season is ideal for abundant pasture and local cows can thrive. This year’s pastures are either still flooded or have become de facto swamps. One woman said that before the storms her seven cows were producing 35 bottles of milk every day. Now they are only able to produce between 10 or 12 bottles. That means she has gone from earning about $14 dollars a week to just $4 dollars.
Efforts to aid the community have been piecemeal. The mayor donated small packets of food last month. This weekend the Red Cross donated more food aid packages that will last families at least a month or two. Other associations and NGO’s have distributed aid to their corresponding sectors. The Ministry of Agriculture and Cattle has collected the reported losses from the community and is offering rice and sorghum seeds come August. They are also selling chickens at very reduced prices ($18 for 50 chicks).
The reality of the situation is that this community and others like it will have to find alternative ways to feed their families for the remainder of the year. When conditions are favorable, farmers can produce one more harvest after the rainy season thanks to the lingering humidity in the soil. After that, only those with access to irrigation will be able to produce a harvest during the dry season.
Several local associations such as ACUDESBAL and ADIBAL have begun pilot projects with small groups sharing portable irrigation systems in an effort to confront climate change and create more resilient communities. However, local farmers are hesitant to try their hand at the new systems. For many, rain has always determined the growing season, and intensive farming requires a greater commitment in time, energy and maintenance. Just consider that to buy the few gallons of gasoline that the pump requires per week, the farmer has to travel by bus with his or her gas can to the closest gas station 12 miles away. Initiatives such as these require time and patience. The experiences of those participating in the pilot project serve to convince neighbors and friends over time. Typically, communities begin to reproduce these kinds of initiatives on their own after three years. But – with weather patterns being anything but typical, farmers could embrace such alternatives more quickly. It may be the safest card they have left to play.