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Bolivia Diaries: Day 3, Part 1 - DDT For Sale

by: Jill Richardson

Thu Oct 21, 2010 at 06:29:44 AM PDT

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This picture speaks for itself:

This diary covers the town of Achacachi, a small town in the Bolivian highlands where our group stopped for a bathroom break while en route to Santiago de Okola, an indigenous community on the northern shore of Lake Titicaca that we spent a few days with. I took the picture of the DDT for sale in Achacachi. Note that Achacach is nowhere near the part of Bolivia that has malaria.

Previous diaries about Bolivia:

Jill Richardson :: Bolivia Diaries: Day 3, Part 1 - DDT For Sale
Achacachi is a town in the between La Paz and Lake Titicaca with a population of 20,000 and a soccer stadium (covered in brilliantly green astroturf) that seats 20,000. It's known for being a town of warriors. I took several pictures of the shops on the main street. As you'll see, there's an awful lot of junk food for sale and relatively little fruit in comparison.

The main street

What I saw in Achacachi - and elsewhere in Bolivia - reflects the history of U.S. "aid" to Bolivia over the past 60 years. The Bolivian revolution was in 1952. A coalition of indigenous campesinos and miners were important in bringing about the revolution and installing the revolutionary party, the MNR. In 1953, the MNR instituted land reform, breaking up the haciendas and giving land to the peasants.

The U.S., watching this, decided that the MNR was anti-communist enough to merit support. Some believe that the land reform resulted in reduced food production. Others say that is not true, but once the peasants were free to farm their own lands, they began eating more than before, thus leaving less food for the cities. I tend to believe the latter. One way or another, there were urban food shortages, and the U.S. stepped in to prevent any sort of instability due to lack of food.

Bolivia was a major recipient of U.S. food aid, including an awful lot of wheat. Wheat was not an Andean food at all, but the U.S. wheat imports helped Bolivians develop a taste for it. The impact is clear today. Decades after Bolivia received so much U.S. wheat, bread made from refined wheat flour is a staple there. The pictures of rolls for sale below are representative of what I saw in practically every city I visited. These same rolls showed up on our table nearly three meals a day as well. Needless to say, they aren't terribly nutritious.

Rolls for sale

And more...

In addition to the rolls, I saw stores selling every sort of junk food. There was one store that literally sold nothing but soda. And, as you'll see, there was one lone fruit stand among the junk.



More junk

Want some chicken? No idea how long it's been sitting out.


Food was not the only type of aid Bolivia received from the U.S. during the Cold War. We also sent over massive amounts of agricultural aid. The introduction of "modern" farming with pesticides, fertilizers, and heavy machinery made an impact still apparent today. Tractor after tractor rolled through the main street of Achacachi while we were there. Across from where we parked, I spotted an agrochemical store and immediately got to work taking pictures. (The store also advertises that it sells seeds, although I didn't see any.)

In the front of the store, there were large bags of nitrogen fertilizer as well as a spray application device that I've seen used in Latin America to apply pesticides. I asked if people used any protective clothing while they sprayed pesticides, and the people in the store told me no. (However, I did not see anyone applying pesticides in Bolivia, so I cannot verify this.)

Inside, there was a shelf of pesticides and animal drugs behind the counter. The products included: Ridomil, Monitor (Methamidophos), Lorsban (Chlorpyrifos), Tamaron (Methamidophos), Baygon (Propoxur), AquaMaster, Bonanza (Trifluralin and naphthalene), Arena (Clothianidin), Malezil (Paraquat), Gramaxone (Paraquat), Bravonil (Chlorothalonil), Reamizona, Garrapata, and, of course, DDT. You can see a full list of the registered pesticides in Bolivia here. What is most shocking here is the DDT, not only because it's there and easy to get, but also because this is NOT a malarial region at all, so it's clearly not being used to control malaria. This is primarily a potato growing region.

Once we got to Santiago de Okola, we were able to discuss agriculture and the history of the Green Revolution with the farmers there. When I write about their agriculture, I will share what they said.

Your local agrochemical dealer

Need any pesticides? Fertilizer?

Paraquat (Gramaxone): 4 out of 5 suicidal farmers choose Paraquat! Fast acting on weeds AND humans.

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Registered pesticides... (4.00 / 2)
Maybe this is old news to some, but I'm actually amazed at how few are manufactured en Los Estados Unidos...

We don't even manufacture poison anymore, eh?

DDT (4.00 / 2)
Screwy Fucked up. (Edited after doing a little research.)

DDT is not on Bolivia's list of approved agricultural chemicals, either as a commercial name or an active ingredient. I went through the entire list of 1,946 chemicals looking for either DDT or something that might signify the chemical name. It isn't there.

DDT is not on the list of approved agricultural chemicals because its use in agriculture was banned worldwide by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which went into force in 2004. (The Convention has not been ratified by the U.S. of A. Bolivia has been a party to the Convention since 2004.)

And yet, there it is, unashamedly staring us in our faces. Jill has the photographic proof.

According to text in the Convention wiki,

Co-signatories agree to...limit the use of DDT to malaria control...

That is not true. A subsequent table in the wiki says the use of DDT is limited to the control of insect-vector diseases

in accordance with Part II of Annex B

Part II of Annex B of the Convention says

2. Each Party that produces and/or uses DDT shall restrict such production and/or use for disease vector control in accordance with the World Health Organization recommendations and guidelines on the use of DDT and when locally safe, effective and affordable alternatives are not available to the Party in question.

3. In the event that a Party not listed in the DDT Register determines that it requires DDT for disease vector control, it shall notify the Secretariat as soon as possible in order to have its name added forthwith to the DDT Register. It shall at the same time notify the World Health Organization.

So, maybe Achachi homeowners and farmers aren't trying to control malaria. Maybe they're trying to something else, such as the really bad diseases which can be spread by sand flies such as our troops encounter in Iraq and Afghanistan. India uses DDT to combat sand flies. Is Achachi subject to any insect-vector disease which must be controlled by DDT?

I don't know. Far as I can tell, Bolivia is not in the United Nations DDT Register, not even for malaria.

Damn, Jill, is it just me or is this a really big deal? How widespread is this?

The DDT wiki reports that production of DDT is said to be increasing, but this is difficult to quantify because the only countries that make DDT for export are North Korea, China, and India.

I think it's a pretty big deal (4.00 / 2)
I didn't see DDT on the list of registered pesticides either, so I figured it was illegal. And I don't think there are too many insect born diseases in the area where I saw the DDT for sale. They've probably got Chagas disease in the area, but I don't think that's what the DDT is for. I mean, they walk around barefoot. You'd think if they were worried about Chagas they'd put on shoes to deal with it before they'd resort to DDT.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
two important questions (4.00 / 2)
I only asked about other diseases to make the subsequent point that Bolivia is not in the register. Officially, DDT is not used in Bolivia, although you prove the contrary.

I think the first important question is, how widespread is the unapproved use of DDT in world agriculture? Must be pretty widespread if it's on a store shelf in Achachi.

Second thing I want to know is, why do farmers still use it? Is it more effective than the many alternatives? Is it the cheapest alternative? Is it the traditional option? Is it on that shelf only because a distributor sees it as a way to make a buck (or a boliviano), and the farmers could very well do without it?

[ Parent ]
DDT use (4.00 / 1)
Hmmm. That product could be for general household and other use. The box says it is for fleas, mosquitos, spiders, cockroaches, ants, crickets, chiggers, moths, weevils, mites, and "chinches", which seems to mean bugs in general. There's also a word which might be hita, mita, or nita. Nits?

The product is supplied at 10% concentration in a dry powder, probably intended to be sprinkled around wherever pests are seen. DDT is not soluble in water.

Well, gosh. That makes me feel so much better! NOT!

[ Parent ]
vocabulary (4.00 / 1)
Jill, your vocabulary lesson for tonight:

pulgas, fleas

nita, ?

zancudos, mosquitos

aranas, spiders

cucarachas, cockroaches

hormigas, ants

grillos, crickets

piques, chiggers

chinches, bugs

polillas, moths

gorgojos, weevils

acaros, mites

[ Parent ]
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