Decades of agrochemical use in the Philippines and Thailand has polluted water sources in the country and are directly posing risks to human health and the environment, Greenpeace said today at the launch of a new study entitled “Agrochemical use in the Philippines and its consequences to the environment.” The environment group additionally called on the Philippine government to institute programs to reduce agrochemical dependency in the country’s farms to stem the negative effects on the environment, particularly on water sources.

Farmers spray chemicals on crops in Barangay Loo, Buguias, Benguet Province.

“Agrochemical use in the Philippines And Thailand and its consequences to the environment” provides an overview on how the staggering increase in the use of synthetic farm chemicals in the past few decades has not resulted in a similar increase in crop yields, and worse, cause substantial environmental damage to the country’s water sources.

“This model of agricultural growth is fatally flawed because of declining crop yields and massive environmental impacts. Aside from causing land degradation and losses in soil fertility,
agrochemicals cause water pollution that directly and indirectly affects human health,” said Greenpeace campaigner Daniel Ocampo.

According to the report, water pollution from agrochemical runoff is more widespread in the Philippines than previously thought. Recent studies show that excess fertilizer use has already caused nitrates pollution in water bodies in agricultural areas in the country. The report cites a recent analysis by Greenpeace of groundwater in Benguet and Bulacan provinces which found that 30% of the tested artesian wells had nitrates levels above the World Health Organization (WHO) drinking water safety limit. Other recent studies which found high levels of nitrates around sweet pepper farms in the Manguang area in Ilocos Norte are also mentioned. Nitrates pollution in water poses health risks, especially to children, and nitrogen-based fertilizer runoff has been identified as a cause of toxic algal blooms, such as red tide, in water bodies.

The report further mentions that between 1995 and 1999, scientists have found residues of the pesticides Azin and Butachlor in groundwater wells around farming areas in Ilocos Norte, in concentrations higher than the European Union (EU) safety limits. Recently, researchers at the Benguet State University have found pesticide residues of organophosphates, organochlorines and pyrethroids in soil and vegetables grown in certain municipalities. Pesticide exposure causes health problems, and both acute and chronic toxic effects have been reported in the Philippines.

However, while the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) states that 37% of water pollution in the country originates from agricultural practices which include animal waste and fertilizer and pesticide runoff, the government has made no effort to reduce agrochemical use in the country which has increased massively since the 1960s. According to the report, between 1961 and 2005 fertilizer applications in the Philippines increased by 1000%, but yields of rice and maize increased only by 200 and 280% respectively. Pesticide use, from 1977 to 1987 increased by 325%, but rice yield increased by only 30%. Meanwhile, soil and water, on which farmers health and livelihoods rely, have been degraded by such massive agrochemical applications.

“Clearly there is a need to shift away from the current industrial agriculture system which promotes the reliance on agrochemicals while neglecting to consider their negative effects on human health, the environment, and the economy of local communities. There are proven low-cost alternatives to expensive chemical agriculture system: farmers are already fertilizing soils and protecting crops with organic and sustainable techniques that work with nature, not against it, and which can provide food for all without compromising land and water resources,” said Ocampo.

“The Philippine government must stop promoting this harmful system by phasing out subsidies for agrochemicals, and focus instead on assisting farmers in converting to ecological and sustainable farming systems which can give better yields without harming the environment and human health,” he added.

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