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3 February 2017 | | |

Uruguay: more testimonies of farming families hit by herbicide contamination

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Approximately twenty families have been waiting for over ten days the results of tests that confirm what they already know: their tomato and pepper crops have been lost and their greenhouses will be useless to hold new crops to economically face the rest of the year.

Meanwhile, some water trucks for domestic consumption have started to arrive, facilitated by the Canelones local government, after the recommendation by the Health Ministry to not use the water of the water springs and the Tabárez stream which is fundamental for the community. This water may result lethal not only for crops but for people themselves.

As reported by Real World Radio, approximately twenty family farmers, vegetable producers about 40 kilometers from the capital city, Montevideo, have been affected with the total loss of their crops due to the contamination of their irrigation water, resulting in a deep economic and social impact. The origin of this contamination is an extensive maize crop and the application of a strong herbicide, supposedly the pouring of large amounts of it in a water course used by the nearby family farmers for their crops.

This case served as a catalyst to deal with other issues affecting Canelones department as well, and so in the few next days the inhabitants have planned meetings of groups of farmers affected by agribusiness, including GM soy or maize with an intensive use of pesticides and herbicides, such is the case of "La Armonía".

As usual in these cases, the farmer responsible for poisoning the stream continues under anonymity and the neighbors refer to him as the "Argentinian". Meanwhile, the departmental authorities consider the case summarizes a set of arguments that will feed the debate about the use of the territory of the department where 70 per cent of fruits, mostly grapes for wine production, and poultry consumed by the 3.3 million inhabitants of the country, are produced.

In fact it is easier to describe what the department does not produce: rice. All other food, cereals and protein are produced by a third of the rural population of Uruguay living in Canelones.

There follow some testimonies of the people affected and the authorities who are working on what still seems the beginning of a painful learning that opens the door for a wide discussion capable of changing many things.

"We don´t want this to be filed away".

These are the words of Rodolfo Rodríguez, a young vegetable farmer. "This is the end of January and our production should be at its highest point, but sadly, we are at zero", he said in an interview with Real World Radio. About the presence of departmental authorities, led by municipal mayor Yamandú Orsi, Rodolfo made reference to his satisfaction and as all other people affected, he believes the case of La Armonía should be made public.

The departmental government started several parallel actions: from carrying out their own tests in addition to those of state agencies, to make drinking water trucks available, offer legal advice and the possibility to file a collective lawsuit, as well as to release funds that allow families to pay the most immediate debts.

Also, the Rural Promotion Society of Canelón Chico has started proceedings to allow the drilling of underground water, once the polluted soils are recovered.

"Now we understand its magnitude"

Luis Ulpiano Fresia has been living in the area for many years and told us that the arrival of extensive agricultural companies has destroyed resources such as soil, water and biodiversity.
He mentions as an example the constant appearance of dead fish in several rivers of the area and that this current case is just the accumulation of a situation that has been affecting one family or another for a long time.

"Now we understand its magnitude", he said. "Today there are no more fish and camalotes are dry, I can see this now", said Luis with reference to the situation of water sources. And he told us about his own experience with agribusiness: "When they apply agrotoxics to the nearby soy I can only lock myself in my own home due to the smell ... coexistence is not possible, we need to expel agribusiness from Canelones".

"This calls us to keep up in human and political terms"

The head of the Rural Development Agency of Canelones, Agronomist Matías Carámbula said to Real World Radio that the responsibility for an administration that promotes the food sovereignty principle in territorial terms is even more significant.

"This case calls us to keep up as institutions and as sensible people", said Carámbula, who added that there are no records of similar cases. "We can´t hesitate in cases as these, not as activists and neither as representatives of a left-wing government", he said.

"This case provides us with many arguments that are proof of the fact that the way forward in Canelones is family farming, and make us question the possibility of its coexistence with agribusiness", he concluded.


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