In 1998, Yaneth Valderrama was four months pregnant with her third child when she was accidentally sprayed with glyphosate, a powerful herbalist, working his family’s fields on the Chaqueta River in the Colombian city of Solita. A few hours later, she experienced a miscarriage; Six months later, she died of related health complications. She was only 28 years old.
like the time the herbicide was sprayedTo destroy one of the many illegal coca plantations in the area – a front in the war cocaine and other drugs, And while Valderrama and his family weren’t coca farmers, their fields were full Bananas and other vegetables were not spared either—and neither was he.
It took 20 years for her husband, Ivan Medina, and daughters to bring their case to court. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)
In its ruling, the commission acknowledged evidence of glyphosate’s effects on reproductive health, including abortion, and listed its forced use as a risk factor. violation of reproductive health rights (link in Spanish). The IACHR recognized a second case as valid. About the effect of chemicals on reproductive health Doris Yaneth Alape (PDF), who lost her pregnancy at 28 weeks after being exposed to glyphosate fumigation.
How Glyphosate Became a Weapon of the War on Drugs
Glyphosate is the most common Herbs in the world. Developed by agriculture giant Monsanto in the 1970s, it has been used since form all over the world to destroy noxious weeds.
Typically, glyphosate is applied by hand It is used to protect yields at a sufficient distance to target unwanted weeds while protecting the main crop. In Colombia, however, it has historically been used for another purpose: the forced destruction of coca fields.
Most of Colombia’s coca is grown illegally in remote areas of the Amazon region by farmers who sell it Cartel for international smuggling. These farmers belong to communities that mostly migrated to the areas in the latter part of the last century, finally find in coca A reliable source of income. The region offers two advantages for the production of illegal drugs: it has perfect climates, and is extremely difficult to access and penetrate.
Enter glyphosate, which can be sprayed in high concentrations from airplanes, and destroy illegal farms—even if destroying every other crop in the vicinity, and catching humans in the crossfire as well.
Glyphosate exposure is especially harmful during pregnancy
Yesof liposate carcinogenic effect The chemical has long been known to cause skin and respiratory problems. But, he Damage for reproductive health—including Along with fertility and pregnancy long term genetic consequences– is yet to be fully understood, although a sense of its magnitude is provided by a survey of 80 articles on the impact of glyphosate published in the journal Science in September 2022. exposure and health,
The survey, led by Professor Fabian Mendez from the School of Public Health at the Universidad del Valle in Cali, Colombia, looked at studies examining the effects of glyphosate on reproductive health.
The results provided strong evidence for the effects of glyphosate on reproductive health, including direct consequences on the well-being of mothers, fetuses and newborns. Review of human studies linked miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight and fetal malformations glyphosate during pregnancy. animalsstudy Identified Glyphosate Effects generation below original eexposure.
since it’s hard to control Fumigation, aerial sprayers use a concentration of glyphosate five times higher than the concentration required for manual spraying. Airborne sprays are more likely to travel outside the area they target, destroy or damage legal crops, contaminate water bodies, and harm local populations.
“This is only one dimension, the biomedical impact, but we also have impacts on food security in Colombia: bananas, maize, among others. [crops] are killed in the fields,” Mendez says.
Valderrama was One of the many victims of a drug control policy aimed at destroying coca plantations without providing a sustainable alternative to the farmers who cultivated it. Until now, there is no precise estimate of how many pregnancies have been affected by glyphosate, or how many women have developed reproductive health problems, says Catalina Martinez Corral, regional director of the Bogotá-based CRR. But, she says, it is reasonable to estimate that most farming communities were affected, putting the potential victims on the order of the thousands.
A toxic tool of the war on drugs
Colombia is not alone in its use of glyphosate, but the way in which aerial spraying has been employed as a tool in the international war on drugs is unique.
The National Narcotics Commission of the Colombian government authorized the aerial spraying of glyphosate in 1992, with the aim of destroying illegal coca plantations in the country’s Amazonian regions, including Chaqueta.
The massive fumigation of coca crops was also an important part of this plan colombia2000 US-backed initiative to combat drug trafficking and internal conflict in Colombia. have a plan received high praiseincluding Secretary of State John Kerry, who said it “helped transform a nation on the brink of collapse into a strong institutional democracy with historically low levels of violence.”
but the plan successes are less clear, especially in Reducing coca production and smuggling. According to United Nations informationWhen spraying began in 1994, about 45,000 hectares were under coca cultivation. By By 2021, that number had climbed to 204,000 hectares. At the peak of fumigation efforts, in 2006, approximately 172,000 hectares were fumigated with glyphosate.
In 2003, the use of the herbicide was constrained under regulations due to harmful health and environmental effects, and its aerial use suspended in 2015Following of the World Health Organization Concerns over its toxicity.
A year later, in 2016, Colombia signed an accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a peasant-led, anti-imperialist guerrilla movement involved in a decades-long fight against the government . Many FARC members were coca growers themselves, and revenue from the sale of the profitable crop sustained the movement, which opposed global agricultural multinationals and advocated wealth redistribution.
The agreement included steps towards the eradication of coca plantations with the cooperation of local farmers. “The peace accord states that voluntary replacement should be preferred as the first means of action, if that fails we proceed to forced manual eradication, and only if that fails we proceed with aerial spraying But we can move forward – the peace accord didn’t stop aerial spraying but it left it as a last resort,” said Isabel Pereira, coordinator of drug policy for Degestesia, a legal and human rights research organization based in Bogota.
In exchange, the government agreed to assist local farmers in finding alternative revenue streams, including creating markets for other crops. Yet of the 90,000 families who signed up to receive government aid to move out of coca production, only 3% received the money and support they needed, Pereira said. For the rest, starting new coca plantations next to those destroyed by glyphosate was the only option to support their families, as was the case during the conflict.
So in 2018, in part due to international pressureSpecifically from the US, the government announced its intention to resume spraying in 2020. Although a court ruled on local communities had to attend In the decision, and the pandemic temporarily halting spraying, there is no guarantee that the herbicide will not once again become an anti-coca weapon.
Why the destruction of coca crops is bound to fail
Pereira said that destroying coca farms is only a temporary band-aid when the communities that grow them are not offered a viable alternative. “Coca can be transported very easily, has a fixed buyer, a fixed rate, can be sold at a good price as it goes to the international market, has an added value—and all these elements combined that bring a decent income,” Pereira said. Not many other crops offer the same access to a well-paying international market, and it’s even more difficult to find products that are easy to transport.
ssome options May be effective in the short term: for example, payments for ecosystem services – government payments to farmers who use their land to provide some ecological protection – or carbon bonuses. but eventually, this solution cannot provide financial stability of Coca crops. “We need to open the conversation about legalization,” Pereira said. “As long as this remains an unregulated, illegal and highly profitable market, there will be nothing that can compete in terms of income, in terms of stability, in terms of making a living for these families – and an international market, this is something that almost no other agricultural product has.”