Albion Monitor /News

Enviros Slam World Bank For Encouraging Pesticide Use

by Danielle Knight and Abid Aslam

Some 100 groups intensified criticism over changes in policy that would increase chemical pesticide use
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The World Bank's policy on the use of pesticides in agricultural projects remains a cause for concern for environmentalists despite recent signs of detente between the global money lender and its critics.

Some 100 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) intensified criticism of the Bank during the past year, sounding the alarm over what they perceived as changes in policy that would increase chemical pesticide use -- with potentially disastrous health and environmental consequences.

The Bank had watered down its commitment to integrated pest management (IPM) -- under which predatory insects are used to kill crop-eating ones -- and instead was relying more heavily on the chemicals, the groups alleged prior to the U.N. World Food Summit in November last year.

The Bank now has agreed to take a second look at the issue and to hire an IPM expert for its agriculture department but, according to the NGOs, a number of crucial questions remain to be answered.

Bank 'task managers' have complained that they are under pressure to build large loan portfolios in order to advance their careers
Chief among these is whether the Bank will take concrete steps to enable its staff to pursue low-tech IPM projects -- instead of those which are more capital-intensive and commercially-driven -- and whether it will involve Third World farmers and civic organizations in planning projects.

That is the idea, a Bank agriculture official told IPS, although "I'm not aware that we've done anything positive yet, but we have some new ideas in-house."

The U.S.-based Pesticide Action Network (PAN), Consumer Policy Institute (CPI), and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), say the Bank still discourages its staff from approving loans for ecologically-sound agricultural projects.

Chemical pesticides cause more than three million severe poisonings and 220,000 deaths a year, mostly in developing countries, says Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, staff scientist at PAN's North America center, citing World Health Organization (WHO) statistics.

Yet, "the Bank has not addressed the fundamental problem that it continues to reward its staff for pushing massive loans quickly out the door," Ishii-Eiteman told IPS.

The bias towards large loans is a problem because projects relying on IPM usually are smaller and almost always require staff to spend more time on devising plans suited to local ecological conditions, added Bruce Rich, international programme director at EDF.

Even Bank 'task managers,' who manage these projects, have complained that they are under pressure to build large loan portfolios in order to advance their careers -- despite the lending agency's avowed swing toward smaller, higher-quality lending under Bank President James Wolfensohn.

NGOs hasten to argue, however, that even if the current staff incentives were changed, Bank pesticide policy would remain flawed unless it is rewritten to favor IPM -- and unless rural groups in developing countries are involved in all stages of IPM projects.

"While the Bank is becoming accustomed to meeting with organizations in the North, they have not made any successful efforts to meet with groups in the South," Ishii-Eiteman says. "The participation of farmers and civil society groups are essential to ecologically-based IPM projects."

Under the IPM approach, farmers armed with ecological know-how take the lead in developing locally appropriate pest-control methods that blend tradition with modern science. Farmers' direct involvement in project design therefore is key, analysts say.

Bank officials said they are taking steps to hear what those farmers have to say. Ishii-Eiteman, however, disputes that assertion. "I've given over 100 e-mail addresses of organizations in developing countries to Bank staff, but still these groups have not been directly involved," she says.

NGOs also remain concerned that the Bank did not confirm whether it would take a stronger stance on the environmental assessment of pesticides.

"Rather than encouraging staff to reduce pesticides and promote use of non-chemical ecological alternatives, this policy fosters an ill-advised confidence based on out-dated studies"
Under current Bank policy, any "well-established pesticide" can be considered "environmentally safe" without and need not be subjected to specific environmental assessment. Since those assessments change over time and depending on how and where the chemicals are used, environmentalists and health experts said the existing Bank policy encourages the Bank's staff to ignore these new findings.

"The policy's casual and negligent acceptance of 'safe' and 'well-established pesticides' weakens Bank staff's resolve to investigate the latest scientific findings on pesticide toxicity and health effects -- such as reproductive disorders, endocrine disruption and cancer," Ishii-Eiteman says. "Rather than encouraging staff to reduce historical dependencies on chemical pesticides and to actively search for and promote the use of non-chemical ecological alternatives, this policy fosters an ill-advised confidence based on out-dated studies."

Nevertheless, Bank critics remain hopeful. Bank staff, who met with NGOs here in late October, have agreed to suggest to their superiors a number of changes in the agency's policies. These would include reducing reliance on chemical pesticides in Bank- funded projects.

Bank staffers also agreed to recommend revisions in the Bank's 1996 policy to reflect the importance of farmer-driven, participatory and ecologically based approaches, the agriculture official told IPS.

Both sides concede, however, that higher-ups at the Bank still have to approve those suggestions -- or veto them.

NGOs also took heart when Bank operations personnel for the first time publicly agreed that chemical pesticide manufacturers should have no formal role in the Global IPM Facility, a multi- agency program led by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In the past, the Bank had taken the opposite view and lobbied to bring industry into the Facility.

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Albion Monitor January 5, 1998 (

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