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South African Farm Workers Protest Against Pesticide Imports from EU Companies

Published September 21, 2023
9 months ago

A peaceful protest drew attention in Paarl, South Africa last Friday, as about 200 women employed in the agricultural sector marched against Bayer. Bayer, a German pharmaceutical and biotech conglomerate, has been targeted due to its production and exportation of various pesticides banned in the EU to South Africa and other developing nations.

Organised by the Women on Farms Project (WFP), the march saw protesters, primarily women, bearing banners with messages such as 'Bayer, your pesticides are deadly', and 'End double standards'. The WFP serves women farm workers and farm dwellers in the Western Cape, advocating for their rights and safety.

The WFP memorandum presented to Bayer demanded the immediate cessation of production and exportation of EU-banned pesticides to South Africa and other developing nations. At least 54 such products exist, according to the memorandum handed over to a Bayer representative at the company's premises.

WFP Labour Programme Organizer, Katrina Claasen, cited frequent complaints from women working on the farms. These ranged from asthma and sinus issues to skin irritation after handling crops sprayed with pesticides. Claasen also highlighted the lack of protective gear for male farm workers in Rawsonville who worked directly with these pesticides.

Among the protesters was Mercia Adams, a former farmworker from Rawsonville. Her daughter and mother have both suffered health issues, attributed to exposure to pesticides.

The WFP has, since 2017, focused on addressing user exposure to harmful pesticides. In 2019, they petitioned the South African government to ban 67 EU-prohibited pesticides. In September 2022, the national Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development responded, declaring the gradual withdrawal and final ban of certain pesticides by June 2024.

Despite repeated attempts by GroundUp, a response from Bayer was not received at the time of publication.

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