We recently blogged about a Greenpeace East Asia investigation which uncovered the ‘ugly side of food’, and exposed a phosphate fertilizers manufacturing scandal in Sichuan, China. We also sadly witnessed how chemical fertilizers manufacturing, essential to industrial agriculture, has a high environmental and human impact in the area around the production facilities.
Digging deeper into the dark side of the fertiliser industry, the Greenpeace East Asia investigation shifted its focus to the origin of phosphate that during processing generates mountains of waste and this time uncovered the ‘ugliness’ of the phosphate mining industry in the mountains of Sichuan.
The Greenpeace East Asia report revealed that mining on the Longmen Mountain, a geologically sensitive area severely hit by an earthquake in 2008, increased the risk of landslides and other natural disasters, threatening the safety of miners and nearby residents, as well as directly impacting a natural reserve which is home to the endangered giant Pandas.
The geological research carried out by Hengduan Mountain Research Society, a Chengdu-based NGO, concluded that any phosphate mining activities must take into consideration that the region is a seismic area prone to earthquakes, because additional geological wounds inflicted by mining can dramatically change the stability of the mountain structure and increase the frequency of mudslides and other geological disasters.
The Long Men Mountain sits on an active fault area and features a peculiar geological structure of high mountains and deep valleys, the danger of which has been underestimated.
Besides the geological price, another victim of phosphate mining is the endangered Giant Panda. Several field trips in the Nine Mountain Nature Reserve in Sichuan revealed that phosphate mining destroyed much of the vegetation and directly affected the Panda habitat.
Additionally, in 2012 the Sichuan Provincial Government redefined the boundary of the natural reserve, granting exploration rights to a mining company, which forced the 11 local Pandas to retreat to a smaller area.
We believe that what is happening in Sichuan is a too high price to pay for phosphate mining, essential to chemical fertilizer production and industrial agriculture. It is yet again another brutal expression of conventional farming, a system heavily reliant on chemical fertilizers harmful to the environment, humans and, as just found in Sichuan, our beloved Pandas.
It is not necessary that the food on our tables be responsible for such environmental disasters, given that alternatives like ecological farming - based on organic fertilisation techniques - has proven to be effective and sustainable, and not reliant on massive use of phosphate and other chemical fertilisers.
We must start along this ecological path now for our planet, our people and the Pandas of Sichuan.
Alessandro Saccoccio is the Ecological Farming Communications Manager at Greenpeace International