International Women’s Day is the perfect time to introduce Francesca Mancini, the newest member of the CPSP team. We had a chat to find out more about her role.
Tell us what you hope to achieve through your work with CPSP?
I was delighted to accept the invitation to join the CPSP team as it gives me the opportunity to capitalize on the experience gained over several years of work on pesticide risk reduction in agriculture. My role in the team is to enhance CPSP action in South Asian countries. This includes strengthening national and regional capacity and collaboration on identification, reporting, regulation, replacement, and monitoring of Highly Hazardous Pesticides.
It is, in particular, the word “replacement” that make me excited about the role. The social, environmental and economic adverse effects of Highly Hazardous Pesticides have been largely described and documented. Global awareness of the need and the benefits generated by the elimination of their use from agriculture is today much more solid than it was when I started 20 years ago. However, there is still work to do to build the confidence of Governments, farmers and industry on the cost-effectiveness of ecological alternatives. This is the area I hope I’ll be able to contribute the most.
What is your background and how has it prepared you for this role?
I’m a tropical agronomist. As soon as I graduated from University, I was recruited by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and posted to India where I lived for about 8 years in cotton growing communities. The use of pesticides on cotton in the 90s had gone seriously out of control. Organophosphates were applied 20-25 times per crop cycle. Pest outbreaks and crop failures were the norm. Farmers were trapped in a negative economic and social spiral that often led to the tragic outcomes. Working with them in the field, day after day, to regenerate their farming systems was the most convincing evidence that agriculture is better off without the heavy use of synthetic chemicals. Ever since, I have worked in Asia, Africa, Middle East and now the Pacific in programme aimed at mainstreaming policies and practices for ecological agriculture.
Why is it important to focus on Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs)?
I can think of several reasons why we need to focus on Highly Hazardous Pesticides. These actives can cause severe irreversible effects on human health and the environment. Safety measures have proven to be inadequate, completely impractical in developing countries to minimize exposure. Highly Hazardous Pesticides’ easy access has made them one of the most common means of suicide worldwide, accounting for 15-20 percent of all suicides. Whereas, I can’t think of a single reason why their use should be retained. They are primarily, although not only, older generation, off-patent chemicals. They can and have been replaced in countries that have made the right commitment and invested appropriate resources.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing you?
One big challenge we all face are the vested, economic interests of the pesticide industry. I’d like to believe that there is enough evidence by now that eliminating Highly Hazardous Pesticides is in the public interest and that this obstacle can finally be broken down.
A personal challenge is possibly working remotely. I believe that the best changes happen when the right people come together at the right time. This, however, can be overcome by working closely with the CPSP staff based in the countries and with the extensive, formal and informal networks of practitioners that are in the region and with whom I have collaborated over the years.