by Mac Wooten
Your first thought was … Ok, What Did He Do Now? Why am I getting flowers? It’s not my birthday or our anniversary and I can’t think of any special occasion. So, What Did He Do Now? Come on women can’t you just accept that we’re always doing something nice … for no apparent reason???
Ok, enough about this kind of guilt. Just to add one more type of guilt to your list ……. where did these flowers come from, who grew them and under what conditions? This issue is a little different from the issue with children working in sweat shops making your clothes …. yes … the ones that you’re wearing right now! The flower industry is shifting to the south. NO, NOT Alabama, I’m talking about South America as well as other developing countries. For the context of this blog, I’m talking about Peru. Countries where restricted pesticides or pesticides completely banned from use in the U.S. are sold over-the-counter to anyone. One of the problems with these anyones is they often; 1. Can’t read 2. Don’t understand the danger 3. Had to ask the storekeeper how to mix the pesticide for use 4. Have no protective clothing 5. Mix the pesticides, and wash their equipment and allow contamination of the local water supply. (photo below) After they finished spraying the field, the barrels were rinsed out and poured into the water that flows into the river below.
As he mixed the pesticides, his hands and arms were covered with the chemicals. His shirt was soaked from the backpack sprayer.
I doubt if many people understand just how truly toxic pesticides are. Scientists are still learning the short and long-term effects of exposure. Anything that will kill a bug .. will kill people. In the flower industry there are basically 3 classes of pesticides used (insecticides, fungicides and herbicides). Within theses groups many of the products are restricted, banned or unregistered. A large number are still manufactured in the US (where they cannot be used) and exported to developing countries where there are few if any restrictions. Yes you can be assured that the chemical companies do what they can to persuade the EPA and other regulatory agencies to allow continued manufacture and exportation (even though they’re today deemed too hazardous to use in the U.S. Think about that next time you’re in the grocery store and buy onions, squash, broccoli and other veggies grown outside the states. These vegetables are grown beside the flowers and in fields with the flowers and often sprayed with the same chemicals. Do you really think the EPA, FDA and the rest of the alphabet as well as our government really has the budget, personnel and ethics to fully protect us and watch all of this? Would you bet your life on it? Would you bet your kids life on it? Who’s life would you bet?
I could use 5 gallons more virtual ink blogging about the health risks, birth defects, cancers and other health problems associated with the exposure and long/short-term effects to the regulated chemicals we use and possibly use 10 gallons of virtual ink writing about the restricted, banned and unregistered products used here in this developing country. I’m talking about food products that find their way back to the US not in the flowers you buy, but in the food you eat ….daily. The food grown beside, in and around the flowers in many developing countries …. that still have you asking the question, What Did He Do Now?
Since we normally don’t eat flowers, higher concentrations and more toxic pesticides are used in their production. Many of these are known and suspected carcinogens. Conditions are perfect in many of the developing countries in South America for growing flowers … and veggies. The cheap labor, abundance of sunshine, year-long growing season, poor education, nonexistent regulations and return for a low investment makes it hard to avoid the conclusion that the only path to redemption is “through the flower garden.” Here in the tropical South where it is temperate and sunny year round it puts growers at a natural advantage. They don’t have to invest in heating systems nor lighting systems for greenhouses during the winter months. The temperature doesn’t change much when it’s winter here. The downside is the use of these pesticides is in an uncontrolled environment. The environment! The economical advantage of growing flowers is probably 5 to 1 over growing fruit on the same land. Flowers are a money crop for even the small farmers. Peru’s economy is largely still based on agriculture. For the majority of the population here, if you eat it, you grow it.
I can tell you from personal experience that the flower industry is growing (a little play on words) …Rather, it is increasing substantially every day. All of our neighbors grow flowers. A small portion of their land is used to grow their food crops. Don’t think for a minute that they use different pesticides to spray their food crops. Everything gets sprayed at the same time (the corn, potatoes and everything else). After spraying, the container gets washed in the secea (local water canal). The secea is for many poor people here, the local drinking water source, laundromat and irrigation source for their crops and animals. Yes, I have observed that .. first hand and tried to have a come-to-Jesus-meeting regarding their dangerous practices. So far, those talks have been somewhat unsuccessful. They just wait until I leave and continue. My explanation of “black lung” and the plight of coal miners just didn’t really connect with them.
One major point I’m trying to make is HOW IMPORTANT EDUCATION IS ! The education globally does affect you 4000 miles away…… one bite at a time! Ok, ladies, think as you’re lifting the flowers to your nose to smell. Maybe he didn’t do something stupid this time, he’s just being nice. Much of the agricultural labor force (flowers) is dominated by women….. who have received no training or information on pesticide exposure and the need for safety equipment and who comprise the majority of the group more likely to have dropped out of school, thus making this dangerous work one of the few if not only options for them. These women incur massive exposure to harmful pesticides every day.
Corn. I’m glad you asked about the corn in this picture above This corn is called choclo. It’s the kind of corn you eat. However, the leaves and stalks are fed to the livestock … which are taken to the local slaughterhouse and sold locally. It’s rainy season now, which means additional surfactants are added to make the chemicals stick on the leaves longer. The longer it stays on the plants, the more bugs it kills. The more chemical stays in the food chain. Are you getting the picture now? Education has to start somewhere. Teach a Teacher Nonprofit works with Teachers helping with basic teaching skills. Our Perumaculture division teaches sustainability farming practices and address other issues.
We all think flowers are one of God’s most beautiful gifts to us but many times gifts come with a price. I’m not beating up on the flower industry, I’ve actually given flowers when I did something stupid on one or more occasions! My over-all point is about education. Quality education is severely lacking here for the majority of this population. We try to make a difference where we can. And for you, the lucky ones, living in developed countries …. Practice organic farming as much as you can. Eat organic as much as you can afford. Be informed that we need to protect our environment more. Do your part. Walk more often. Be gentle with the earth. Be less of a consumer. Recycle. GO GREEN!
Consider Supporting Teach a Teacher. Help comes in many forms. Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers provide Professional Development and help teach basic teaching skills to Teachers here in Peru. Please visit us at www.teachateacher.org and www.teachateacher.wordpress.com and teachateacher on Facebook.
Mac Wooten is President of Teach a Teacher Nonprofit. A native of Greenville S.C. We live and focus most of our work in the Ancash region of Peru.