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Agrochemical pesticides and kidney related diseases, Sri Lanka

Monsanto, Bayer and other companies importing illegally prohibited pesticides and acting against preventive measures taken.


Over the last decade, a new form of kidney disease of unknown etiology has emerged in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. The occurrence is mainly amongst males of age group 30–60 years engaged in agriculture. Almost 80% of these patients eventually die from kidney failure within the first two years after diagnosis. High prevalence of Chronic Kidney Disease(CKD) has become an environmental health issue of national concern in Sri Lanka. Hypertension and Diabetes is known to be the main causes for renal failure, but in areas with high prevalence of CKD, the majority of patients do not show any identifiable cause, thus, it has been named CKD of unknown etiology (CKDue). Endemic occurrence of the kidney disease was recognized in the 1990s in the North Central Province, situated in the dry zone of Sri Lanka, and this has been increasing over a period of 10–15 years. High prevalence of CKDue is observed in two main districts of the North Central Province —Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. The prevalence is now spreading to the adjoining districts of North Western province, Uva province, Eastern province, Central province and the Northern province [1]. Recently this epidemic has been found in the Southern province near Hambanthota as well. The affected area covers approximately 17,000 square km and with a population about 2.5 million in which more than 95% live in rural areas [2] The presence of high levels of fluoride widespread use of agrochemicals, presence of heavy metals like cadmium, lead and arsenic and uranium in soil and water are postulated as contributory factors. Up to now, there is no unequivocal evidence to recognize the possible environmental causative factors. The prevalence of the disease is mostly among paddy farmers and agriculture laborers. Many of these farmers die simply because they cannot afford the cost of treatment. Apart from the cost, it’s the lack of availability of dialysis facilities in nearby hospitals that makes it extremely difficult for the poor to avail treatment. Most cases, people found they are sick at a very late stage, so that it's not possible to reverse the situation.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Agrochemical pesticides and kidney related diseases, Sri Lanka
Country:Sri Lanka
State or province:Dry zone. North Central Province —Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. North Western province, Uva province, Eastern province. Southern province near Hambanthota
Location of conflict:Medawachchiya, Anuradhapura, Girandurukotte, Mahiyanaganaya, Padaviya, Sripura, Medirigiriya, Hingurakgoda, Dehiattakandiya, Nikawewa and Kabithigollawa, Monaragala, Wellawaya, Rajarata
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Specific commodities:Pesticides
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Project area:1,700,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:According to the oficials CKDue affected people are arround 30,000. However, unofficial information suggested it coud be over 400,000 people [9].
Start of the conflict:1990
Company names or state enterprises:Monsanto Corporation (Monsanto Co) from United States of America
Bayer from Germany
Hayleys from Sri Lanka
Syngenta from Switzerland
Lankem from Sri Lanka
Relevant government actors:Registrar of Pesticides – Department of agriculture
Ministry of Health
Central Environmental Authority
Commissioner General of Agrarian Development
Consumer Affairs Authority
World Health Organsation
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Centre for environmental justice (CEJ)
Monlar Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR)
Sri Lanka Soba Samuhikaya
New Era
Swarnahansa Padanama
Buddhist Actions on Nature
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Genetic contamination, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsUnsuitability of soil for life forms
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Other Health impactsKidney disease,, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts such as: Neurobehavioral and Naturopathic Effects, Effects on Memory and Intellectual Function, Reproductive Effects, Steatosis (Fatty Liver), Cardiovascular Disease, Ischemic Heart Diseases (IHD), Carotid Atherosclerosis, Respiratory System Diseases, Effects on Hormonal System, Diabetes Mellitus.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsFamilies of treated people must use most of their income for treatement and medicine.
Migration due to the inability of land work.
Social exclusion. Sons of illness people can faces problems to marry because other families fear their daughters or sons might also come down with the disease
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:New legislation
Project temporarily suspended
The Agriculture Ministry banned the import, distribution and sale of four pesticides and one weedicide.
The pesticides – Carbaryl, Chlorophyriphos, Carbofuran and Propanil and the weedicide Glyphosate have been banned. However, put under pressure, Sri Lanka’s government placed on hold its decision to ban the top-selling Monsanto herbicide glyphosate [6]
Proposal and development of alternatives:Sustainable and biologic agricultures
Improvement of the health care system
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The epidemic is spreading more and more all over Sri Lanka.
However, a positive note is that the Agriculture Ministry banned the import, distribution and sale of four pesticides and one weedicide.
The pesticides – Carbaryl, Chlorophyriphos, Carbofuran and Propanil and the weedicide Glyphosate have been banned.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Control of Pesticide Act No. 33 (1980)
[click to view]

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. International code of conduct on the distribution and use of pesticides (amended to include prior informed consent in Article 9 as adopted by the 25th session of the FAO conference in November 1989). Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization; 1990

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Chandrajith R, Nanayakkara S, Itai K, Aturaliya TN, Dissanayake CB, Abeysekara T, Harada K, Watanabe T, Koizumi A. Chronic kidney disease of uncertain etiology (CKDue) in Sri Lanka: geographic distribution and environmental implications. Environ Geochem Health, 2010

[2] S. Johnson, S. S. Misra, R. Sahu, P. Saxena. Environmental contamination and its association with Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology in North Central Region of Sri Lanka, Centre for Science and Environment, 2012, New Delhi

[3] C. Jayasumana, S. Gunatilake, P. Senanayake. Glyphosate, Hard Water and Nephrotoxic Metals: Are They the Culprits Behind the Epidemic of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology in Sri Lanka?
[click to view]

[4] N. Jayatilake, S. Mendis, P. Maheepala, F. R. Mehta and On behalf of the CKDu National Research Project Team. Chronic kidney disease of uncertain aetiology: prevalence and causative factors in a developing country. 2013

[6] Newspaper article from: The international consortium of investigative journalist. By S. Chavkin. Herbicide ban as kidney disease origin remains elusive. April 2014
[click to view]

[5] Newspaper article from: The international consortium of investigative journalist. By Sasha Chavkin, Sri Lanka bans leading Monsanto herbicide citing deadly disease fears. March 2014
[click to view]

[7] Centre for Environmental Justice. Campaign Launched "Let Us Live -Don't poison us"
[click to view]

[8] Centre for Environmental Justice. Press release CASE NO.CA Ap 531/11 Arsenic in Pesticides. August 2011.
[click to view]

[9] Newspaper article from: The New York Times. By the associated press. Mystery Kidney Disease Killing Sri Lankan Farmers. January 2015
[click to view]

Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ), Sri Lanka
[click to view]

Medical mystery: Kidney disease killing farm workers in Sri Lanka
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Centre for Environmental Justice (Colombo, Sri Lanka) and Paola Camisani (EJOLT team, Barcelona)
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1824
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