Nick Baker, Alexandra Van Nispen, Claire Suh, Jolie Huynh, Conor Ross
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
INTRODUCTION……………………………………………………………………………….3 THE CHEMICAL: GLYPHOSATE…………………………………………………………...3 A PROCESS TO IDENTIFYING A GLOBAL CHALLENGE……………………………....6 NARROWING THE SCOPE………………………………………………………………….10 AVOID TRAPS…………………………………………………………………………………13 DESIGN THINKING…………………………………………………………………………..13 VALIDATED LEARNING…………………………………………………………………….15 IDENTIFYING AND MANAGING RISKS…………………………………………………..17 COST AND BENEFIT ANALYSIS…………………………………………………………...19 APPENDIX: PROPOSAL AND BUDGET…………………………………………………...20
This paper aims to lay out the work we have been doing to address the global technical challenge of pesticide misuse. The short term goal of our project was to secure funding to perform a field study to test the feasibility of a pesticide field school in rural Argentina in order promote the education of safe herbicide practices. After significant research and development, countless frustrating moments, and constant reevaluation, our group came together and produced an “outstanding” presentation proposal that Lounsbery is financially supporting this Spring. With the work we have done this semester, we have received $8,000 from the Lounsbery Foundation and the potential to make an impact in Corrientes Argentina with a Pesticide Field School. Our team consists of five undergraduate Georgetown students. Nick Baker is a senior who spent a month in Bella Vista, Corrientes in 2010 and has maintained a passion for Argentina ever since. He will graduate in May with a B.S. in physics and minors in STIA and Spanish. His particular role on this team has involved contact with Argentines for feedback, advice and trip planning. Conor Ross is a junior majoring in Physics with minors in TPST and Psychology. With his management experience and background in research, Conor’s role on the team deals with background research and organization of relevant tasks.
The Chemical; Glyphosate
Before delving into the research on the effect of glyphosate on human health it is beneficial to review the science of glyphosate. In the following, we will discuss the chemical background of the compound and the biological case studies of overexposure to glyphosate.
It is necessary to discuss the chemical characteristics of Glyphosate. Glyphosate is a non-volatile systemic herbicide that is applied directly to plant foliage. In plants, glyphosate disrupts the shikimic acid pathway through inhibition of the enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate (EPSP) synthase. The resulting deficiency in EPSP production leads to reductions in aromatic amino acids that are vital for protein synthesis and plant growth. Glyphosate is absorbed across the leaves and stems of plants and is translocated throughout the plant. Plants exposed to glyphosate display stunted growth, loss of green coloration, leaf wrinkling or malformation, and tissue death. Death of the plant may take from 4 to 20 days to occur.1 The shikimic acid pathway is specific to plants and some microorganisms. The absence of this pathway in mammals may explain why low toxicity of glyphosate to non-target organisms.
Half life and Metabolism
The half life of glyphosate in soil is 2-197 days (however soil and climate conditions affect this). Glyphosate is a relatively stable chemical that is eliminated via photo decomposition, specifically through soil microbial action that yields AMPA, glyoxylic acid and CO2.2 Glyphosate adsorbs tightly to particles in soil its residues are immobile. According to plant pathologist Steve Savage, glyphosate has also replaced mechanical tillage to destroy weeds, which is “a substantial positive for the environment because of reduced erosion and retention of soil carbon.3” The EPA has determined that glyphosate has “minimal” ecological effects.4
In terms of metabolism, animal studies have indicated that 30-36% of glyphosate is absorbed after ingestion.5 Dermal absorption of glyphosate is poor. An in vitro experiment with human skin resulted in a maximum of 2.2% of 2.6 μg/cm glyphosate absorbed across the skin. This absorption peaked 8 hours after administration. Furthermore, high ratios of glyphosate to AMPA were detected in a human patient's blood serum 8 hours post-ingestion, as well as in the patient's total amount of urine. In another study, researchers applied glyphosate to abdominal skin of monkeys at doses of 5400 μg or 500 μg over 20 cm2 of skin. Over a 7 day period, 73.5% and 77.1% of the applied dose remained on the skin.6 Altogether these results prove that glyphosate undergoes little metabolism and is excreted mostly unchanged in the feces and in the urine. Glyphosate is cleared from the body at a relatively quick rate. In a case where two humans who were poisoned with glyphosate, the patients had peak plasma glyphosate concentrations within 4 hours of ingestion however, after 12 hours, glyphosate was almost undetectable.7 Human Exposure and Toxicity:
In order to calculate human exposure to a pesticide, the U.S. EPA considers all possible routes, including food, water, applicator exposure, or bystander exposure from drift. Conservative assumptions are made throughout the process. (Glyphosate is labeled for use on more than 100 crops, so this is a very conservative assumption.) If adding up the residues from each crop yields a dose greater than the EPA’s cPAD, the public is assumed to be at risk and some uses must be discontinued in order to reduce public exposure. This exposure can be acute due to direct or immediate ingestion/contact or chronic via pesticide drift, contaminated dust and soil, contaminated equipment and clothes, contaminated water/food (bioaccumulation)
To examine whether exposure is toxic, one must also look at the LD50 value given to the chemical in question. LD50 is a standard measure of acute toxicity for chemicals, expressed in the amount of chemical (milligrams) per body weight (kg) that it took to kill fifty percent of a population of test animals. Because LD50 is a standard measure, it is used to compare toxicities of compounds; the lower the number, the more toxic it is. According to the EPA, Glyphosate has a LD50 of 5600 mg/kg based on oral ingestions in rats, placing it in Toxicity Category III.8 The EPA ranks chemicals in four categories, I being the most toxic and IV being the least. The EPA has also found that glyphosate does not cause cancer. To compare, caffeine has a much lower LD50 of 192 mg/kg based on oral ingestions in rats. Indeed, Caffeine is over ten times more toxic than glyphosate, but the typical dosage of caffeine is not high enough to cause toxicity. With LD50 of 192 mg/kg, it would take 12192 mg of caffeine to kill an average 140 lb human being. A typical 8 oz cup of coffee only contains 95 mg of caffeine, much lower than the dose required for acute toxicity. The same reasoning applies to glyphosate. Following the same calculations, it would take 12.5 oz of glyphosate to kill an average 140 lb human being. That means drinking about three gallons of Roundup Original.9 The Solvent Culprits:
Overall, glyphosate is one of the most widely used weed killers. European and American regulatory agencies have determined the herbicide to be safe if applied properly based on EPA guidelines.10 Studies of glyphosate lasting up to 2 years, have been conducted with rats, dogs, mice, and rabbits, and with few exceptions no effects were observed. Laboratory studies show that glyphosate produces reproductive changes in test animals very rarely and then only at very high doses (over 150 mg/kg/day).11 In a teratology study with rabbits, no developmental toxicity was observed in the fetuses at the highest dose tested (350 mg/kg/day). Rats given doses up to 175 mg/kg/day on days 6 to 19 of pregnancy had offspring with no teratogenic effects.12 Glyphosate does not appear to be teratogenic. Glyphosate mutagenicity and genotoxicity assays have been negative. These included the Ames test, other bacterial assays, and the Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) cell culture, rat bone marrow cell culture, and mouse dominant lethal assays. Rats given oral doses of up to 400 mg/kg/day did not show any signs of cancer, nor did dogs given oral doses of up to 500 mg/kg/day or mice fed glyphosate at doses of up to 4500 mg/kg/day.13 Ergo, it appears that glyphosate is not carcinogenic. Finally, some microscopic liver and kidney changes, but no observable differences in function or toxic effects, have been seen after lifetime administration of glyphosate to test animals.14
However, usage and safety rules vary. It is important to consider the presentation, concentration and formulation of the products, as the toxic effects depend on the physical state of the product and also on the characteristics of the solvent or other substances contained in the formulation. The rate of absorption depends upon the presentation of the product: volatile pesticide mixtures and fine powders are more easily inhaled than dense products and coarse granulated materials. Concentrated solutions are much more dangerous than diluted ones; solid baits may be colourful, attractive and sweet, and may be easily ingested by toddlers. In some cases, if the concentration of the active compound is not toxic, the toxicity in cases of human exposure may be due to the solvent (e.g. kerosene or paraffin) and not to the active ingredient. Within chemicals like roundup there are inert compounds. For example, one of these is polyoxyethyleneamine (POEA) which is added as a wetting agent to increase the efficacy of glyphosate. Studies indicate that the surfactant is more toxic than glyphosate itself to humans, because on a cellular level it uncouples oxidative phosphorylation and produces reactive oxygen species.15 An interview with Argentine farmhand, Fabian Tomassi, discusses the detriment of preparing cocktails of chemicals to spray. After mixing chemicals for three years, Tomassi now suffers from the debilitating neurological disorder, polyneuropathy, and is near death. He says; “I prepared millions of liters of poison without any kind of protection, no gloves, masks or special clothing. I didn't know anything. I only learned later what it did to me, after contacting scientists.16” A Process to Identifying the Global Challenge
Although we were excited and passion about our idea from the starting point, we rushed into our project without taking in to account the framework of the course; before starting to address the solution a problem, we needed to asses the global nature of the problem. There is an importance to being earnest, but uncontrolled passion can lead to disarray. We initially jumped to focus on Argentina and the herbicide glyphosate due to numerous reports linking health incidents with the misuse of glyphosate. However, instead of diving we cannonballed into the issue.
We quickly ran into the problem of developing the argument for our global challenge because we were so focused on glyphosate misuse in Argentina. We had failed to understand the global health issue as a whole. Without an in depth context regarding the circumstances of the agrochemical problem, we were unable to lay the foundation for our platform; we struggled to efficiently and effectively narrow our scope and find a solid avenue of progress. In other words, we started looking at the intricacies of agrochemical use within one country instead of examining the big picture (i.e. the groundwork trends, the global statistics, the raw facts that we needed to justify agrochemical misuse as a global challenge.) We indulged in the specific without figuring out the lay of the land. This was probably because we were all so excited to personalize this project-our enthusiasm manifested in a hyperactive, unfocused initial approach.
From the first presentation experience, we approached office hours somewhat discouraged, but acknowledging failure and recognizing that we needed help. The professors reminded us of that first class lecture where they outlined a global technical challenge. Obviously we had been a little headstrong in the beginning and made the assumption that pesticide misuse was a Global Technical Challenge. We adapted our approach and realized the importance of addressing agrochemicals from a global aggregate perspective. Together, the United States, Argentina and Brazil have been able to significantly increase output of soybean, making up nearly 80% of the world’s soybean crops as of 2010.17 In taking a step back, we focused on pesticide misuse, an issue within the category of Global health. We already knew that global health fell into the category of global technical challenge from class discussions. From here, we had to decide whether we were going to look at man-made global health challenges, or global health challenges occurring naturally in the environment. We determined we wanted to work with man-made problems. Ergo, our job was to prove that pesticide misuse could be a subheading of Global health, and thus maintain its technical challenge distinction. We looked at the problem itself- first at the benefits and drawbacks of using agrochemicals and where a problem may be encountered. When used safely, agrochemicals can have monumental benefits for farming communities and agricultural industries. Through effective agrochemical use, countries are able to expand economically and grow in a variety of areas. For example, because of agrochemicals, within the past 10 years, the soybean products produced in Argentina and Brazil in 2001 accounted for about 50% of world trade18. However, to capitalize on the benefits of improved productivity of agrochemicals, there has been a higher application rate in response to resistant weeds and higher demand. Since 1950, global use of pesticide has increased 50 fold.19
Unfortunately, in the last 20 years, worldwide unintentional deaths related agrochemicals has increased 16 fold, with 2/3 of these deaths occurring in developing countries. WHO researchers have noted that probably 71% of these fatalities might have been prevented by improving chemical safety measures.20 With about 346,000 people dying worldwide annually due to pesticide poisoning, this is issue is urgent, substantial and global. In developing countries, effects of acute poisoning due to exposure to dangerous levels of pesticides in and around food are more apparent and more severe than in industrialized countries. In developing countries, as much as 30% of the pesticides do not meet internationally recognized safety standards.21 In some developing regions direct contact with pesticides is a problem. Many people are poisoned while applying pesticides to fields, because protective clothing is too expensive, not available, damaged, or impractical in hot and humid climates.2223 Safety precautions are often provided in foreign languages or are not understood and followed.24 We then began to look at multiple countries as case studies, recognizing global trends in overall pesticide misuse in developed and developing countries. We also looked at countries attitudes and policies towards the wide array of agrochemicals, pinpointing global trends in overall pesticide misuse in developed and developing countries.
Our research uncovered data indicating that within the last 10 years, more and more countries, developed and developing, have started to ban the use of the specific herbicide glyphosate despite the fact that glyphosate itself is one of the safest herbicides out there as discussed in the aforementioned scientific background of the chemical. We found information that discussed partial and full bans of glyphosate in regions such as Brazil, Denmark, Tasmania, and most recently the Netherlands, as well as many other countries. Tasmania
Tasmania, the only state in Australia that has a blanket ban on GM crops, has been GMO free since 2001 extended their moratorium on glyphosate indefinitely this November 2014.25
Denmark has imposed widespread bans on the spraying of glyphosate in response to research showing that the sprays have been contaminating the country's groundwater.Danish environment minister Hans Christian Schmidt has announced restrictions on glyphosate, after recent publication of data showing the chemical's presence in groundwater, from which Denmark obtains most of its drinking water. It is worrisome that unacceptable quantities of glyphosate and its breakdown product AMPA might build up in the groundwater, due to drainage.26
The Netherlands is the latest country (Sep 26 2014), after Russia, Tasmania and Mexico, to say no to Monsanto. Starting at the end of 2015, the sale of glyphosate-based herbicides to private parties will be prohibited due to a recent decision by the Dutch Parliament. This means that people who spray RoundUp on their gardens and lawns will have to find another form of pest control. RoundUp, has been linked to cancer, infertility, birth defects, nervous system damage, and kidney disease.27
In Brazil the federal Prosecutor is going after RoundUp; he claims to want the use of glyphosate to be suspended because there are questions of its chemical makeup. The federal prosecutor is also questioning 2, 4-D and other active ingredients: methyl parathion, lactofem, phorate, carbofuran, abamectin, tiram, and paraquat. Two actions have thus been filed by the Brazilian Federal Prosecutor: He wants ANVISA to reevaluate the toxicity of eight active ingredients suspected of causing damage to human health and the environment. The actions also request that the Ministry of Agriculture as well as Livestock and Supply (MAPA) suspend the registration of glyphosate products until a conclusion about their safety is reached by ANVISA. This is a civil lawsuit that contests the registration of the herbicide.28
From here, we then conducted more research focusing on developing agro-economies in countries because of the knowledge that 2/3 of 346,000 deaths related to unintentional pesticide poisoning. Indeed, developing countries rely heavily on the use of agrochemicals in order to keep up on a global market; Argentina and Brazil alone make up almost 50% of the global economy of soybeans, and the increase in production output has a positive correlation with the increased use of agrochemicals (WHO). Thus, we looked in depth at countries such as Burkina Faso, South Africa, and Argentina. We found that there are basic regulations on the sale and production of agrochemicals, however, there is a lack of enforcement and understanding of the proper use of agrochemicals. For example, a study in South Africa has shown that many people who handle pesticides do not understand and misinterpret the pictograms on pesticide labels.29 A further study in west Africa demonstrated that only an estimated 2% of farmers there wear protective clothing when handling pesticides.30 In Burkina Faso only 1% of farmers used the recommended protective measures.31 Furthermore, through our research and data regarding countries that have specifically banned/partially banned glyphosate we were led to believe that Argentina would be the next developing country at risk of banning the use of glyphosate even though this chemical can be used safely. We recognized this by evaluating the threat level of banning or partially banning glyphosate in multiple countries and created a pictorial representation.We figured that we would be able to have the greatest impact on a developing country that was orange aka categorized in the “Severe” category. We then looked into what people have already done with regards to this herbicide problem. We looked at Argentine protesting groups and measurements that have been taken against glyphosate use as specifically related to Argentina. Our focus on Argentina will be discussed in the following section.
Narrowing the Scope: Defining the Global Challenge: After narrowing the scope of our project, we were able to confirm and address the glyphosate Misuse in Argentina as a Global Challenge, per the framework of this course
Global: Because of the growing trend of glyphosate misuse leading to prohibitory action and health concerns, the misuse of glyphosate has global implications for the future of agricultural development
Substantial: The degree to which the economies of developing countries, especially Argentina, depend on the use of glyphosate, the health issues and possible prohibition would have serious ramifications for the country’s future
Urgent: As the country that provides the majority of these agrochemicals to Argentina, we have an obligation to act in reversing these health trends. Furthermore, because the unsafe use of glyphosate has a correlation with health issues, we need to act now if we want to prevent future cases from occurring.
Science is Necessary to Solve the Problem: Because of the scientific basis for the glyphosate poisoning and the research in developing safer practices, science plays a key role in addressing glyphosate misuse.
Science is Not Enough: However, because of the political climate and the vast neglect for safe practices, in order to successfully address the problem, we will need to work with the farmers on a social and educational front. After discovering the global trend of pesticide misuse, we decided that we had the impetus to act. Thus, we took our Global challenge and narrowed the scope, making the general specific and finding a unique path of attack. From this process we were not only able to refocus our efforts on Argentina, but we were able to develop the best avenue for progress. Using the map below, we honed our focus and evaluated the best possible way to address the global challenge.
As discussed above, in looking at the case studies of different countries, we found that there is a common trend in the banning of glyphosate and other agrochemicals. In examining countries, we found that Argentina was the most logical place to move forward with our research. Not only has Argentina faced a multitude of health issues that can be correlated with the increased use of agrochemicals, but we believe that Argentina could be moving towards banning glyphosate. Current political action within the state shows a widespread dissatisfaction with multinational corporations like Monsanto that are promoting the use of these agrochemicals.32
Once we were decided on Argentina, it was time to really find out what was going wrong with agrochemical use and how we could start to address it. Our research brought us to an extensive report from the First National Meeting of Physicians in the Crop-Sprayed Towns. This report provided extensive, on the ground research of the unsafe agrochemical practices going on in the Córdoba region of Argentina, one of the largest agricultural regions in the country. Data has shown the the number of birth defects per 10,000 births in in Argentina has increased from 46 in 1997 to 186 in 2008, almost four times as prevalent33. The rate of cancer cases in agricultural regions in Argentina is currently 65% above the national average, and reports from multiple universities in Argentina have provided equivalent data supporting these trends. However, what is most important is that these scientists have found a positive correlation with the use of agrochemicals and the increase of these health defects. Scientists at the University of Cordoba calculated the rate of agrochemical use and growth in soybean producing areas, and aligned this rate with the increased rate of health defects.
The findings communicated that a majority of health issues are occurring in areas that use the most agrochemicals in their production. With this information, we had sufficient evidence to make the case that these health issues are related to the use of glyphosate.
Furthermore, scientific reports and on-site testimonials have shown that although there are ways for the agrochemical to be used safely, Argentina has consistently not utilized safe procedures. In order to provide a larger agricultural output, farmers are using higher concentrations of glyphosate, and mixing the agrochemical with other chemicals, creating highly volatile chemical compounds. Rather than safely disposing of storage containers for glyphosate, the farmers are recycling the bins and using them to store water and food for their communities, further spreading the agrochemicals into the community at large. Although personal protective equipment (PPE) is available at agrochemical dispensaries, the workers rarely use the equipment, allowing the agrochemical to be directly ingested into their systems.
However, we still felt that banning glyphosate was not the solution to the health crisis. Thanks to the help of agrochemicals like glyphosate, Argentina’s GDP has increased 10% in the past 20 years34. If Argentina were to ban glyphosate like other countries before them, it is expected that they would face a 5% GDP drop in just 10 years. Therefore, we were able to finally narrow our scope in working with Argentina, not in a policy direction of changing the legality of glyphosate, but rather in an educational direction. There are ways to use glyphosate safely, and if we can communicate and establish these best practices, Argentina can continue their economic growth while decreasing the health issues associated with unsafe practices.
So in addressing the potential pitfalls of creating a solution: we group together Tunnel Vision and Utopia → We avoid these two potential pitfalls by understanding the complex motivations for agrochemical use. These chemicals are beneficial to productivity, they facilitate the agricultural process, and without being there, it is tough to fully understand the farmer’s understanding of how they are used. Regardless, we accept the use of agrochemicals as the norm, and built our solution to fit within that space..
Between our research and hopefully conducting a field study, we hope to ensure our understanding of the economic and social realities of agrochemical use in Argentina. Furthermore, a portion of this field study is dedicated to creating a curriculum that fills in the gaps for these farmers, not to teach them stuff they already know.
As far as swapping goes: we understand that there is always a risk of creating a new problem out of the old one. We feel as though that is unlikely to occur given our solution. The only potential issue of swapping we see could come about if we were to distribute incorrect information. To avoid this, we will ensure that our educators are certified professionals.
We mitigate the risk of creating a money pit with our solution by breaking it down into steps before fully implementing it. We first need to develop a curriculum and ensure that there is interest in participating in such a program. This should take relatively little funding. If we determine that it is a feasible undertaking, then we will likely be able to gain the support of a few other groups to help fund the next steps and the first actual pesticide field school. We also seek to train those that participate in this program to teach their peers. Taking a training of trainers approach gives our program a potential to spread on its own without further funding being needed
Professor Evan Barba’s explanation of design thinking as an integral part of a durable and meaningful product compelled us to create our Pesticide Field School with a focus on the practicality of it in the multiple phases we were hoping to launch. Barba quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald and explained that, “Design thinking is the test of a first-rate intelligence and the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” This hit close to our project because we were driven by two goals - showing the alarming health effects of glyphosate, and allowing it to be used in Argentina without a full ban in the future. These two points could easily slide into contradiction, and it was highly beneficial to look at it in terms of a practical working solution that looked at the affordances and constraints that the two components added. The most direct manifestation of design thinking in our project is the utilization of a feasibility study. Our approach to the political, social, and cultural nuances that would be barriers to entry in any other circumstance, through this sort of on the ground inquiry, offers us a way to harness it by understanding it and integrating what we’ve learned in phase 1 to phases 2 and 3. Through this kind of process, our team would defray the greatest potential downfall in the project (which could also be our greatest strength): being students. By being mindful of the realities and limitations of our status as non-agronomically educated students, we were able to design a program that isolated some of the potential pitfalls attached. Appearing to be legitimate because we put in the effort to truly understand the Argentine political and cultural landscape, constructing a Pesticide Field School that uses the expertise of others in the field, and most importantly, speaking with people on the ground to hear about what they want, rather than what we could project from our laptops in Georgetown. In a politically and socially volatile landscape such as the one that surrounds conversation around agriculture and pesticides in Argentina, it has been invaluable to speak with people who are involved and have stakes in the industry. We have listed some of the people that have been instrumental in this effort: Cesar Cossani - Friend of Nick’s from Bella Vista, Corrientes. Studies psychology at La Universidad del Nordeste in Corrientes Capital. He has been our primarily point of contact to agricultural engineers at the university. Marcos Aguirre - agricultural engineering student. He offered information on pesticide use in general and helped with our background information. Emmanuel Musante - agricultural engineering student. He outlined the general layout of pesticide use and regulations. He explained the rules that exist but aren’t necessarily enforced, which helped us seek out more information about the way that agricultural workers buy their pesticides and the protective equipment that they do or do not invest in. He gave us the number of the woman below to speak with: Teresa Salvia - works for the Ministerio de Producción in Corrientes. She will be useful going forward once we make regular contact with her with regards to partnering with farmers and understanding regulatory bodies that exist in Corrientes. Alejo Vaccaro - friend of Nick’s from Bella Vista who studies in Corrientes. His father is an agricultural engineer, and his connections have and will continue to lend a hand in diversifying the kinds of information we can gather from abroad. Paolo Silveri - IFAD point of contact in Dominican Republic. Offered information about the way that IFAD operates and general activity in South America. IFAD’s operations in the area and in SA at large has been mostly with the objective of improving the incomes of poor and small-scale producers, and largely through political action and working with the government. Claus Reiner - IFAD point of contact in Argentina. Very transparent about their limited ability to work with student groups and ventures in Argentina for the mission statement being varied from what our project’s approach is. Although their website shows that they have interest in being more active in other problem areas like land retention, it appears that pesticide use may not be as close to their goal of working with the poor (as issues that more closely work with families and land ownership). We also benefitted from some candid conversations with FAO and hopefully will be able to pursue further and closer contact with them as we move forward into phases 2 and 3. We also have intentions of getting in contact with co-ops or other people that would be readily available to meet when we come for the PFS. Ultimately, the benefits of being able to analyze the project as a duality rather than an endeavor that requires fragmentation has helped us integrate the different methods of research we’ve been able to pull together through our human contacts, quantitative research, and the ethnographic study that we have started for phase 1 and will expand on in the phases to follow. Validated Learning (Lean Startup):
The idea of validated learning is manifested in breaking down our project into three different phases: carrying out a feasibility study, developing a curriculum and running a test pilot, and implementing the Pesticide Field School. We arrived at this three-step model after realizing potential risks associated with launching Pesticide Field School. Our initial proposal to address glyphosate misuse was Farmer Field Day, a festival with an educational element. We would provide participants, who we anticipate to be mostly agricultural workers, with information about glyphosate and safe practices in handling agrochemicals. At the same time, there will be festive activities taking place to serve as incentives for farmers to come and perhaps bring along their families. However, in assessing the risks, costs, benefits, and potential traps of this idea, we were mostly concerned that Farmer Field Day would be a money pit. Not only would the logistics be complicated, a significant amount of cost, predictable and unpredictable, would be incurred. Consequently, to address the trap of money pit, we modify our solution to Pesticide Field School (PFS), solely focusing on the educational element. We envision PFS to be an education program occurring in both a classroom and field setting aimed to provide targeted participants with information regarding safe practices in using glyphosate as well as promoting the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). The program will initially be led by a trained professional with the aim to facilitate rather than teaching or lecturing as we want to provide a hands-on learning experience. As compared to our initial proposal, we anticipate PFS to incur a lower amount of capital expenditure as well as operational costs. The financial sustainability of the program would be relatively low because another component of PFS is to for the participants to become facilitators for the next group of participants. Essentially some of the trainees would become trainers, thus lowering operational costs in wages paid to trained professionals and maintaining the viability of PFS. We again assess the risks, costs, benefits, and traps of PFS and our evaluation leads us to consider high risks such as lack of participation and interest in the program and providing incorrect information that fails to address the problem. We also had difficulties in drafting a potential curriculum and planning out program specifics. As a result, we applied the concept of validated learning and break the implementation process of PFS into three steps aforementioned. Phase 1 of the project, the feasibility study, would help us survey targeted participants’ interest and observe current practices in using glyphosate. Our objectives for this phase is to really gain a deeper understanding of the agricultural workers’ experience and challenges and establishing partnerships with the students and professors at a university in Corrientes as well as other potential local organizations and NGOs. With the information collected from the field study, we will move into Phase 2 and generate an analysis summarizing our findings and determining the feasibility of the program. We will also develop a curriculum aimed to address that participants’ needs, refine program specifics taking cultural sensitivities into consideration, and run a test pilot program to project potential success of PFS. In Phase 3, we anticipate to partner with larger organizations such as the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development to fully implement the program. Our proposed 3-step process reflects the idea of validated learning. In conducting a field study, we would gather data to determine what will work and what will not for our curriculum and in running a test pilot before formally implementing PFS we will be able to further refine the program to be more efficient and effective. These steps are necessary in allowing us to perform minimal work to develop a practical model of PFS and in helping us avoid costs that might have been unnecessary.
Identifying and Managing Risks:
Analyzing potential risks is critical to creating a potential solution to a global technical challenge. As we worked through our various ideas, we came to select the pesticide field school as the solution we wanted to propose. As with any endeavor, there are some potential risks. We sought to not only come up with what these risks were, but also to come up with potential ways to address them if they we encounter them. These risks were split into four categories: low impact - low probability, low impact - high probability, high impact - low probability, and high impact - high probability.
For our low impact - low probability risks, we are primarily concerned with the weather, the time of year that we conduct the study in Argentina, and communication issues. Adverse conditions could hinder the field study and could cause problems in implementing the field school itself. While much of this is beyond our control, we can arrive in Argentina prepared for inclement weather. The weather in Corrientes is generally fairly mild in the autumn (April - May) and then gets a bit colder and windier in the winter (June-August), but since it is in the northern portion of the country and at a lower elevation, the weather is not severe. Since we plan to go sometime between May and August, we should not have much trouble with the weather. This is also a good time to go because the farmers will not be in peak season and will therefore be more likely to have time to meet with us and discuss how they use pesticides. Getting in touch with these farmers is another risk, but Nick’s contacts on the ground in Argentina should prove particularly useful in getting in touch with the Universidad Nacional del Nordeste in Corrientes. He currently has at least three friends attending that school and the father of one of them is an Agricultural Engineer, himself. These contacts should prove useful in getting in touch with individuals at agricultural organizations on the ground as well as individual farmers to be asked about their use of pesticides.
Our low impact - high probability risks relate to language issues and our budget. We have done extensive research on our budget (attached), and it has been developed to include everything from airfare to sunscreen, but there is still a high likelihood that we will incur costs that we have not anticipated. We have given ourselves a bit of wiggle room in our budget that should help us account for a few additional expenses that we may experience. Also, if for some reason we need to adjust on the fly, two of Nick’s contacts have offered housing that at least he can stay in, which could save some money. Language stands to be an issue in Argentina, given only three members of our group speak Spanish. Nick is familiar with the correntino accent in Corrientes, although it has been four years since he has been there. That said, between those of us who study Spanish, the fact that many Argentines in the cities speak at least some English, and Nick’s contacts, any language issues we encounter will not be too difficult to work around.
The issues that could arise in the high impact - low probability category relate primarily to public opinion in the country, curriculum development, and farmer interest. Anti-pesticide protests have been widespread throughout the country in the past few years, and there are many Argentines in rural and urban communities who are against the involvement of multinational corporations in agriculture. Coming to Argentina with the intention of improving the way in which pesticides are used could be misinterpreted as being in support of one of the multinational corporations. This could lead to difficulties communicating with Argentines who are opposed to those companies. The good news, however, is that our funding will be coming from an independent, seed philanthropy organization and we are just American students. Our neutrality should provide useful in not drawing negative attention towards ourselves. Not developing a meaningful curriculum would also take away from the overall impact of our proposed solution. We need to assess what the farmers know, what they don’t know, and why they make the choices that they do regarding pesticides. This will require direct interaction with the farmers. We must also ensure that the information being distributed is correct and will not make conditions worse or more dangerous. Utilizing trained professionals to teach during the actual Pesticide Field School will mitigate this risk. Finally, a high impact - low probability risk we recognize is that farmers may not be interested in interacting with us. This is mitigated hopefully through our connections and the fact that we will be going during a non-productive season.
Our biggest concerns are those that are high impact - high probability. The risks in this category pertain to our credibility and the sustainability of the program. We are, admittedly, not the subject experts on pesticide use. We recognize that the farmers are the ones who actually use them and there are complex reasons for the ways in which they use them. There’s a chance that farmers are completely aware that they are not taking the necessary precautions regarding the use of pesticides and choose to do so anyways. Our hope is to assess whether or not that is the case and to find space in which we can improve the status quo. We will seek to ensure that the farmers view this program not as a bunch of condescending yanquis coming to Argentina to tell them what to do, but rather as a partnership seeking to network the farmers with one another and create something that is truly useful to their productivity and safety. Sustainability of the program is also a risk. We seek to adopt the FAO Farmer Field School - Training of Trainers component to empower the farmers who participate in the program to have the skills and tools necessary to distribute their knowledge. The field school will only be sustainable if it is deemed useful and meaningful to the farmers that participate in it. Overall, the primary way in which we address most of these risks is through conducting a feasibility study. This study will give us relatively low-cost insight as to the realities of pesticide use in Argentina, the current knowledge of the farmers, the decisions that they make regarding pesticides, and face to face interaction with potential partners to help us to implement the field school, itself. Assessing Cost and Benefits:
Our costs for the field study are relatively low. Aside from the direct, quantitative costs of travelling to Argentina and paying for amenities and transportation while we are there, there should be no other costs. This requires time from us, which we are willing to dedicate, and offers the potential first step towards creating a meaningful impact on public health in Argentina. Some specific benefits to the feasibility study are all necessary to potentially creating and implementing the pesticide field school. First, we will be able to speak with farmers regarding the ways in which they use pesticides and the understanding that they have of the risks involved. Once we have an idea about how farmers use pesticides, we will then be able to ask them about what format they would like the information regarding safe use presented in and if it were to be a class, as we propose, what that might look like. We want to ensure that the program is as beneficial and attractive to the farmers as possible, and speaking to them will help us to tune the program to their wants and needs. Another benefit to the field study is that at the end, we should have an idea whether or not the Pesticide Field School stands to improve upon the status quo in Argentina.
One of the primary costs for the Pesticide Field School will be increased capital expenditure. To carry out the education module, we envision costs related to marketing, renting space, supplies, protective equipment, and other equipment. We will also likely need to pay the educators for their time and perhaps the farmers for transportation costs. Furthermore, the program will cost the farmers some of their time. Another potential cost is carrying out the program without it having an impact on the status quo. We will take steps to value the learning farmers experience in the program to mitigate its continuation without results, but nevertheless it is a cost worth noting.
We feel that the benefits of the proposed Pesticide Field School, however, outweigh the costs. Implementing the PFS for the first time will allow the model to improve. Collecting feedback from the farmers regarding their personal experience will allow the program to grow and develop over time. Ensuring the safe handling and application of pesticides will have a positive impact on human health in rural Argentina. Reducing the current level of exposure that farmers and communities surrounding farms have in Argentina will reduce the number of pesticide poisonings and could potentially reduce cancer incidences and the incidence of birth defects. In demonstrating best practices for Argentine farmers, we will help them to prioritize their safety and those around them, and will also foster a community of individuals concerned with safe practices that has the potential to diffuse to farmers who may not directly participate in the program. Furthermore, if the system is successful, it could be adopted by the FAO as a pesticide specific version of their Farmer Field School and implemented in other areas around the world that may have similar problems.
APPENDIX: Proposal and Budget
Global Use of Agrochemicals
Glyphosate Misuse in Argentina
Nick Baker, Jolie Huynh, Conor Ross, AJ van Nispen, Claire Suh
We proposeconducting a field study in Argentina to test the feasibility of an applied educational program, Pesticide Field School (PFS), for Argentine agricultural workers that will promote biosafety and best practices for the proper and protected use of glyphosate. A PFS will: reduce health risks associated with improper use of glyphosate-based pesticides, decrease unnecessary exposure to pesticides by teaching appropriate standards of use; teach best practices associated with the use of glyphosate as an inherent component of farming genetically-modified soybeans; and establish a relationship with potential partners in Argentina to create a point-of-contact for sustained program growth into the future. We also anticipate that improved methodology of agrochemical handling and application will provide financial benefits to agricultural producers. Safe and proper application of agrochemicals will increase crop and worker efficiency. Utilizing less of the chemicals will reduce purchasing costs, will protect off-target organisms, and will reduce the likelihood of weeds developing resistance to the applied chemicals. Proper handling techniques will also reduce the incidence of worker injury, protecting producers from liability issues and a diminished workforce. Improving the standards of use of these chemicals is to everyone’s benefit.
Global Challenge Overview of Glyphosate Misuse:
When used safely, pesticides can significantly impact national economies in a positive way. Since 1990, Argentina for example has nearly doubled its production of soybeans as pesticide application aids in improving productivity and increase crop yields, allowing the country to compete on a global market economy and develop economically. In fact, the soybean products produced in Argentina and Brazil in 2001 accounted for about 50% of world trade. As a result, global use of pesticide experiences a 50-fold increase since 1950. However, over the past two decades, we have also seen a drastic increase in unintentional and avoidable pesticide-related deaths. Worldwide, there has been a 16-fold increase over the last two decades, with two-thirds of these deaths occurring in developing countries.
Our country of interest, Argentina, has experienced a nine-fold increase in pesticide use. This is attributed to higher consumer demand that has in turn resulted in the increased use of genetically modified crops and the herbicide glyphosate. It is precisely this kind of demographic that would benefit most directly from Lounsbery’s generosity while adhering to a greater vision of increasing scientific diplomacy. Moreover, as weeds develop stronger resistance to these herbicides, the amount of glyphosate applied to crops increases. Frequently, agricultural workers use more than the recommended amount or mix glyphosate with more toxic agrochemicals (that have not been tested in tandem), and/or spray in unsafe conditions. Our program would align with Lounsbery’s commitment to science and furthering research while being immediately impactful for these communities.
The misuse of glyphosate by agricultural workers has been linked to health risks such as heart disease, cancer, and infertility. In response, many countries have banned these agrochemicals. Globally, an increasing number of countries have banned or in the process of banning glyphosate. Figure 1 shows the increasing trend of full/partial glyphosate country bans.
Figure 1: In 2003 glyphosate was fully banned in Denmark. In 2011, the Santa Fe province of Argentina fully banned glyphosate. In 2013 Russia and El Salvador fully banned glyphosate, while Nicaragua and Sri Lanka partially banned glyphosate. In 2014 Tasmania renewed its 2001 full ban on glyphosate indefinitely, and the Netherlands fully banned glyphosate.
Argentina, in particular, is moving toward issuing a complete ban on glyphosate due to the rise in health risks associated with this agrochemical. It is estimated that 12 million Argentines have been directly sprayed with pesticide. Studies have reported a correlation between the increasing use of pesticides and the increasing rate of birth defects and cancers in agricultural regions in Argentina, citing cancer rates that are two to four times higher than national average and a quadrupling of the number of birth defects since 1997.
Our Proposed Solution:
To sustain the benefits of pesticides and to minimize the health risks associated with the misuse of glyphosate, we propose conducting a field study to test the feasibility of a Pesticide Field School (PFS) aimed at promoting best practices and to address the lack of knowledge and education in handling agrochemicals. In the long run, we hope to create a paradigmatic shift towards safety and sustainability in the application and use of pesticides in Argentina.
PFS will occur in both a classroom and field setting, and will be led by an expert on pesticide safety. Participant farmers will receive information regarding safe spraying tactics of glyphosate, the use of personal protection equipment (PPE) while handling glyphosate, and future risk prevention to reduce unnecessary exposure to glyphosate. The FAO already has a prototype of these field schools in Southeast Asia; ergo, we hope to work with the FAO and/or apply their established educational program in Corrientes, Argentina.
Our first step is to carry out an on-the-ground field study in Corrientes in conjunction with professors and students at the university there to perform on-site evaluations of the interest in this educational program by interviewing targeted participants, agricultural leaders, and glyphosate distributors. This will allow us to gain further insights to the misuse of glyphosate, gauge targeted participants’ interest in the program, and seek to establish relationships with existing local organizations and/or NGOs to further aid us in our field study. We will also evaluate in-depth the benefits and shortcomings of the program towards pesticide safety. Next, we will create an analysis of our findings to determine the feasibility of the program. During this phase, we also plan to refine the specifics of the program, develop the curriculum tailored to the needs of the targeted participants, and run a pilot test of the program. At the conclusion of this phase, we will apply the most effective practices to phase three of the program, in which we will work with our potential partners to formally administer a PFS for farmers on a larger scale. We are seeking funding to conduct this initial study from the Lounsbery Foundation. We feel that this project fits in well with funded proposals under the Lounsbery Foundation’s Global Science sector. While the program supports education, it stems from a scientific background with the aim at improving human health. Lounsbery’s support of an entirely student-run venture is unique because of its efficacy in addressing a problem that has not been addressed for too long, and the positive feedback and product we anticipate will be a success in furthering Lounsbery’s scientifically-based humanitarian efforts.
1. The Food and Agricultural Organization, FAO, assists member countries in establishing national biotechnology strategies that consist of a farmer field school, Furthermore, the FAO provides support for the establishment of biotechnology networks.
2. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, provides models of safety regulations that could supplement the model presented by the FAO. The OECD has developed safety performance indicator programs as a method of evaluating safe practices. The OECD works with the Network of Officials for Pesticide Compliance and Enforcement to provide communication across organizations to set safety standards.
3. Monsanto is a potential partner, however, their participation may introduce risk into the project, due to public perception problems in Argentina. Nonetheless Monsanto could fund a “farmer field day” in which farmers attend educational programs on safe pesticide tactics while family members attend a festival.
4. Students and professors from the university in Corrientes will act as in-country hosts and will aid in data collection to determine effectiveness (benefits and shortcomings) of the field study. Furthermore, they can help in reaching out to the targeted participants and maintaining the program in the long term.
Day 1: Arrive in Corrientes
Day 2-3: Familiarize with the area and work with students and professors from the university and potentially agricultural leaders to gain perspectives on the issue of glyphosate misuse.
Day 4-6: Reach out and conduct interviews with local agricultural workers to gain further insights to their current practices in handling pesticide and to gauge their willingness in participating in PFS
Day 7-8: Evaluate gathered data and our observation to assess farmers’ interest and establish relationship with local organizations and/or NGOs
Day 9: Gather additionally data as needed in our evaluation and assessment
Day 10: Depart Corrientes
Economic Research Service/USDA. “Agriculture in Brazil and Argentina”
 Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Disease
 Pesticide Action Network. “Pesticides and Health Hazards: Facts and Figures"
 “Report from the 1st National Meeting of Physicians in the Crop-Sprayed Towns”
 Please note: data collection procedures/scale criteria will be established by Georgetown University and the university in Corrientes students/professors to evaluate whether proper use of pesticides has significantly increased.
Budget for a Feasibility Study of Pesticide Field School:
The following budget is estimated for a group of five members for a 7-day trip not including traveling time to and from Argentina:
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