The human cost of agrotoxins. How glyphosate is killing Argentina

An emerging Argentinian photographer has realised a daring photo feature. Like David against Goliath, his enemies are glyphosate and the Monsanto Company.

Glyphosate, one of the world’s most used herbicides in agriculture, has devastating, dramatic effects on the health of people living in very close contact with it. This time, the warning does not come from environmental organisations or WHO’s agencies, but from a photo feature. Pablo Ernesto Piovano is an Argentinian photographer that decided, in 2014, to report the conditions of people living and working close to GM soy crops, where massive amounts of herbicide are used.

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The human cost of pesticides

The photo feature, El Costo Humano de los Agrotóxicos (The Human Cost of Agrotoxins) has been exhibited at the 2015 edition of the Festival della Fotografia Etica of Lodi, Italy. Piovano’s pictures denounce the Monsanto Company, multinational that patented the genetically modified soy crop combined with the use of the Roundup herbicide (soy is resistant to it), which contains glyphosate.

“This work has been driven by my love and tribute to Mother Nature. That is why I decided to work to take evidence on this situation, spending long days by my own, travelling over 6000km on my own 20 years old car, and my camera as my contribution to stop this to continue,” said Piovano to Burn, magazine dedicated to emerging photographers.

Brief history of glyphosate

The story of glyphosate dates back to the 1950s, but its mass production under the name of RoundUp by the Monsanto Company started in 1974 in the United States. But things “got out of hands” when glyphosate started to be matched with genetically modified cereals to resist to the pesticide. It is now commercialised globally and its licence expired quite everywhere. In Europe, 14 companies produce it.

Fracrán, San Vicente, provincia di Misiones, Argentina
At birth, Fabián Piris’ life expectancy was 1 year. Today he is 8 and he suffers from hydrocephalus and an irreversible intellectual disability. His mother came into contact with glyphosate during pregnancy.

Argentina’s deplorable choice

Everything started in 1996, when the Argentinian government approved the cultivation and trade of GM-soy and the use of glyphosate, without conducting any investigation, but taking as scientific evidence only the works published by the Monsanto Company. Since then, genetically modified crops cover 60% of total arable lands, and 370 million litres of toxic pesticides have been sprayed on 21 million hectares in 2012 alone. In those areas, cases of cancer have tripled over 10 years, whilst cases of malformation among infants have increased by 400%. The cases of skin diseases and respiratory disorders are incalculable, both among youngsters and adults.

Alicia baja- Colonia Aurora, Misiones, Argentina
The crystal boy. Lucas Techeira is 3. He was born with ichthyosis, a disease causing dry, thickened skin. His mother came in contact with glyphosate during pregnancy.

One third of the Argentinians is affected by glyphosate

A recent investigation, as reported by Burn, estimated that 13.4 million Argentinians (one third of the country’s total population) have glyphosate-related disorders. However, Argentina didn’t take any measure to curb such dramatic situation, as well as it didn’t commission further investigations and studies to discover what the population was going through.

Fracrán, San Vicente, Misiones, Argentina
Jesica Sheffer is 11. Since when she was 7, she suffers from a tendon malformation that prevents her from being in a natural standing position.

The photo feature has not gone unnoticed. It has been awarded several prizes, such as the Mexico’s Festival Internacional de la Imagen award, and the third place of the POY Latam contest, in the “Carolina Hidalgo Vivar el medio ambiente” category. However, a culture of silence and such great power as Monsanto’s are enemies hard to be defeated, way stronger than evidence and pain.


Cover photo: Sunflower fields. Saenz Peña, Province of Chaco, Argentina © Pablo Ernesto Piovano

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