Colonialism, Bananaland, and Reproductive Rights – Emily Hallabrin

In the documentary Banana Land: Blood, Bullets and Poison, there was a focus on the many detriments of the banana economy. The people in countries like Nicaragua and Ecuador who work in the banana farms experience low wages, long hours, and unsafe working conditions. Among these hazards are health consequences that result from the widespread use of pesticides and chemicals on the farms. Not only do the companies barely research the toxic chemicals before allowing their use in agriculture, but they also buy out the scientists doing the studies in order to get favorable results. They also use these chemicals in combination with one another, which is highly dangerous, as the health consequences of the resulting mixtures have never been studied. Furthermore, the number of times a year these chemicals are sprayed on a given farm has drastically increased. One man interviewed said that when he began working in 1992, the farm would be sprayed 10-14 times a year. Now however, it is upwards of 40 times annually. This greatly increased the likelihood of negative health effects in workers and the community.

Among the health consequences faced by those who work in or live near banana farms, those most reported include liver failure, skin maladies, chemical hypersensitivity, birth defects, neurological problems and infertility. A main focus of the documentary was the last effect, the infertility of men who work in the banana farms or those who live near them. One small study done several decades ago found that in just one farm, 20 out of the 50 male workers were infertile. With this information combined with the staggering increase of both questionable chemical compounds and frequency of spraying, the percentage of men affected is thought to be much greater.

When I learned about this terrible problem, I thought about how it fit into the overarching narrative of reproductive rights in the Global South. Historically, the conversation about reproductive rights has focused on the Global North, on white women, and on choice. Feminism has recently, however, began to incorporate differing ideas of just what reproductive freedom is. The movement has begun to understand that wealthy white women’s right to use birth control is directly linked to the forced sterilization of native women in places like the US and Australia, as well as the widespread testing of dangerous reproductive drugs on women in the Global South. The infertility of men who work on banana farms is directly linked to this discussion. The effects of these dangerous chemicals are interfering with these men’s reproductive choices and this issue should be addressed as such. Women are not the only ones whose reproductive freedoms should be protected. Do you agree? How do you think modern feminism should address these issues?

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One Response to Colonialism, Bananaland, and Reproductive Rights – Emily Hallabrin

  1. Eugene Dorokhin says:

    I do agree that this is a major humanitarian issue which needs to be addressed. I will point out that it isn’t often due to the lack of research, but the lack of a proper deterrent in a free market that allows for these chemicals to be used without recourse. When the cost of litigation does not outweigh the economic gains of a cheap workforce that you can poison to make better profit margins, the market will respond appropriately. The problem is that free markets are not moral entities, they will do everything possible to approach maximum profit at anyone’s expense. The dangers of these pesticides were well known, but they were still successfully sold and used in many third world countries because there was no government regulation in place to protect the victim workers.


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