Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fields notes and thoughts on Syngenta in Goa

By Suzanne Jameison,
July 12 2008

For many of people living within the restraints of consumerism it is hard to fathom how it would be possible to live without the supermarkets to purchase staple ingredients such as rice and onions. However, there are many tribal communities who still rely on subsistence farming agriculture is their main means of providing daily calorie intake. I have been given a glimpse into this life, a life totally removed from what I know, yet I feel compelled to tell this story to others. It is the story of the adivasi tribal people living in the villages of Corlim and Mangado, Goa India, in the shadows of the Syngenta Santa Monica Pesticide plant; it is the story of their fight for justice and for their voice to be heard.

In July 2008, I was given the opportunity to visit the Corlim and Mangado villages and meet with locals who are concerned about living under the shadows of the Syngenta Santa Monica Chemical Plant and who feel their story has yet to be heard. In my time in the village I met a number of people who shared with me a part of their life. In this report I shall identify a number of important issues which were consistently raised by the people, this is their story.

Every story has a beginning and for the people of Corlim and Mangado this story begins on 24th January 1969, when Ciba of India Limited (known now and will be referred to from hereon as Syngenta) purchased 200 acres of land from the President of India. The intention of the sale was for Ciba to establish an industrial complex. The vendor being the President of India offered the sale of the land at a price of twenty five paise per square meter, the final sale of land equated to the total value of Rupees One Lakh eighty eight thousand four hundred and sixty. The contract of sale transferred ownership of the above mentioned land and included the buildings, yards, courts, fences, wells, sewers, drains and watercourses . Prior to the sale, the 200 acres was leased to the church – Santa Monica Missionary, and was used for cultivation purposes by the adivasi tribal groups who resided on the boundaries of the above mentioned land.

The consequence of the sale for the adivasi groups is that, in the transfer of land to Ciba, they lost their main cultivation space. According to a number of villagers from the Corlim area the only compensation they were given for the loss of land was two hundred rupees to purchase two bullocks. It is important to note that in1969, at the time of this compensation deal the literacy rates of Adivasis was extremely low and according to the villagers the agreement was made by a thumb print on a blank sheet of paper, and they were unaware of the full consequences of this agreement . The people of Corlim have no legal documentation to prove that they have lived and farmed in the area, and rely on counting back through the generations. After speaking to a family in Corlim, we could work out that her family have lived in the area for 3 generations; this takes occupation on the area back to the late 1800’s.

The people of Corlim and Mangado identify themselves as being agriculturists, a number of people I spoke to recalled a time when the villages were totally self sufficient cultivation included rice and vegetables, the Cumbarjua canal provided them with fish, and the forest with cashews, coconut and fire wood . The sale of the 200 hundred acres of land has had serious consequences for these villagers. The land purchased by Syngenta was used by the Corlim and Mangado villagers as the main cultivation area. The Cumbarjua canal flowed through the area and not only provided the community with fish and water for their crops. The canal also prevented monsoonal flooding. In 1969 the subsistence lifestyle that the people of Corlim and Mangado had enjoyed dramatically changed, they were cut off from the 200 acres of land which was their life. Agricultural land is now leased out to families; this land is often at a distance from the village. I met one of the older community members of Corlim, he was returning from working in his field which is on the other side of the busy highway and roughly 5 kilometres from his home. He told me that he once grew rice and vegetables closer to his home, but now he has to go further away, when I asked where the old field was, he pointed to Syngenta. I asked him if he was compensated for his land he told me he gave his thumb print, and was given two bullocks. He has no record of the transaction he told me,
“many years ago someone came and asked to see the transaction paper, and he has never seen the paper of the person since”. For many of the older members of the Corlim village they are reluctant to speak out against the company, as they vividly recall times when the fathers and uncles who protested against the Santa Monica works were arrested and detained for up to ten days.

The land lease which people from both communities work is under a mutual understanding with the landlord. The agreement may be that for every ten bags of rice produced, the landowner receives two bags. The balance is insufficient to provide for the whole family, so there is no other alternative but seek paid employment in surrounding villagers and towns. For many people this means their typical day begins at 5.30 am they work their field, and then go off to paid employment and in the evening will return to the field. People depend on what they grow to feed their family, and if their yield is insufficient the balance must be purchased. People are very concerned with the future and the increase in rice prices on the global market. The community of Corlim and Mangado can no longer be defined as being totally an agricultural society; people have no other alternative but rely on paid employment and commercial transactions to survive. The villagers have requested that Syngenta offer paid employment to the local community, currently there are only two local people employed at the plant. Employment is one of many concerns raised by the village and they feel that there should be more opportunities for employment at the Syngenta plant; these requests have been ignored by the company. It is interesting to note that in Syngentas code of conduct and business principles the company boasts that they are “ethically responsible in the way they do business” . Taking this into consideration then morally don’t the company have a level of responsibility to assist in offering local employment?

Ethical is a powerful word, it provides just, fair decent and moral principals and is often use when business transactions are taking place. It encompasses not only the right of the employer, but of society as a whole including natural surroundings of where a transaction takes place. Morally- Syngenta boasts that the Santa Monica Works is proof that nature and chemistry can live in harmony, and believe that this has been achieved in the creation of a twelve acre man made lake. The lake is home to several aquatic species including rare crocodiles and turtles . However, ethically as wonderful as the lake may sound, its creation has not brought harmony or joy to the people of Corlim and Mangado. In order for the lake to be created Syngenta have closed the two sluice gates at the Cumbarjua canal, this has affected the natural water flow and created flooding in both villages. One of the local villagers showed me some of the homes affected by this flooding. When the lake is full the water has no where else to go, so the back flow washes back into the village not only creating damage to structural walls and foundations but to the health of the villagers. The people I spoke to all mentioned that there was an increase in respiratory disorders, ‘especially in the rainy season’ . So far the company have not listened to the villager’s requests for the sluice gates to be reopened, the villages continue to flood, walls crumble and people get sick.

It is not only the respiratory disorders in the monsoonal times which are affecting the villagers. At times of production in the plant there is often a “smell”, the day I was present the plant was not in production mode, so I asked a number of people at different people to describe the smell and how it made them feel.
“its worse in the morning and in the evening- when the air is still- it makes me feel sick in the stomach all day, and also my head”
So what do you do when you feel like this?
“we know it happens when they are working in the plant, and it ( smell) will eventually go – we just learnt to accept it”
Can you describe the smell?
“its like ammonia, sometimes sulphur- we can even smell it when we work in the fields, which are four kilometres away”
The villagers are unsure of what the smell is and if it is harmful to their health. The smell along with a decrease in crop production and fish population of the nearby canals has locals worried about what is going on beyond the red brick walls of Syngenta and the long-term affects of living in the shadows of a pesticide plant.

This brief report highlights what the people of Corlim and Mangado are concerned about and would like answers to. So far on any occasion the community have raised these concerns they have had no response. As a guest in the village, I have not only shared in their story, I have witnessed the destruction caused by the closing of the sluice gates and the effects this is having on family homes, and I am concerned about the long term health and environmental impact which the smell and overflow of monsoonal rains from the Santa Monica plant is causing. The fencing off of the Santa Monica site shut out the communities in any negotiation between the company and authorities. It seems that no one want’s to listen to their story, and their concerns. I find myself returning to the introduction of Syngentas code of conduct where it states that the company would be
“be open, transparent and ethically responsible in the way they do business” .
I question this statement and their definition of being ethically responsible in the way they do business, for haven’t they too got an ethical responsibility to the villagers who live under the shadows of the Santa Monica plant, shouldn’t they be listening to their story and acting on their concerns.

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