Pesticides Set Big Farms Against Small Farmers in Brazil

The municipality of Lucas do Rio Verde, the second largest producer of grains in Brazil, suffered an environmental disaster within its city limits.

Houses, fruit trees, ornamental and medicinal plants, and residents themselves were exposed to the effects of an illegal application of pesticide spray.

According to the association of small producers, local syndicates, and experts, the toxic spray was a desiccating herbicide used to speed up the soybean harvest, the crop that has reaped profits for the region’s big farmers.

The toxic substance, which was spread illicitly by a single-engine plane at the beginning of March, is widely used in soybean monoculture. As immediate effects, the product can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches. Over the long term it can cause cancer.

The victims included dozens of small domestic gardens, fruit trees, ornamental plants, the Medicinal Plant Garden, which is linked to the Father Peter Foundation, and even some residents, who complained of diarrhea, vomiting, and itching.

Around a week after the accident, two specialists arrived in the municipality to assess the impact of the environmental disaster: Wanderley Antônio Pignati, a master of public health at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT) and James Cabral, an agronomist with the Federation of Social and Educational Assistance Organizations (FASE).

Together they investigated the contamination and drafted a warning which was sent to various municipal, state, and federal health and sanitary surveillance agencies. The victims of the spraying include small producers who live on the outskirts of town.

Ivo Casonato, a small farmer who lost his entire fruit and vegetable crop, said that he witnessed the moment when the plane buzzed his property.

"The sky was overcast. On the horizon a curtain of water could be seen. On the other side of the Rio Verde, less than 500 meters away, a plane was spraying pesticides on my neighbor’s soybean plantations," he recounts.

Lindonésia Andrade, a biologist who is in charge of the Medicinal Garden, said that the toxic effects appeared very quickly. The day after the spraying [March 2], the damage was visible throughout the city.

"Leaves looked like crushed and burned paper, while others turned full of holes, and necrosis [rot] began to set in around the holes. On the fourth day the leaves entered total necrosis and started to fall," she recalls.

After the accident, the Public Defense Ministry instituted an administrative proceeding to investigate the facts. At the request of the public prosecutor’s office, the Lucas do Rio Verde Civil Police precinct opened a civil and criminal inquiry.

Up to now, however, the forensic exams to identify the material evidence of the crime have not yet been performed.

Agência Brasil

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