Filmmakers explore world of pesticides

BBC documentary filmmaker Simon Kurian and wife Anji Kurian are adding final touches to their documentary about the effect of pesticides on communities in Australia, India and the US. Picture: Natalie Roberts.

BBC documentary filmmaker Simon Kurian and wife Anji Kurian are adding final touches to their documentary about the effect of pesticides on communities in Australia, India and the US. Picture: Natalie Roberts.

A BBC filmmaker based in Parramatta has locked his sights on the murky world of pesticides.

For the last three years, Simon Kurian has worked with wife Anji to produce Toxic Valley, a feature-length documentary on the effects of a now-banned chemical used worldwide for decades as a cheap agricultural pesticide.

But years after use of Endosulfan ceased,they say its effects are still deeply felt.

"We have focused on communities in Australia, India and the US. We still have some filming to finish in the US," said Mrs Kurian.

We went on a boat ride . . . We might have travelled for a mile or so and I can tell you, not a single bird. That's so unusual for Australia, usually you'll see so many water birds, even if you look at the Parramatta River. - Anji Kurian

Mr Kurian, whose first BBC documentary Shiva's Disciple was narrated by Sir Richard Attenborough, said inspiration came in 2011 when Endosulfan was globally banned due to its high toll on the environment and human health.

During filming in India, the couple met children with severe deformities and saw farming communities experiencing "cancer clusters".

A screen shot from Toxic Valley of Dr Matt Landos examining a dead oyster at the Richmond River. Picture: Supplied.

A screen shot from Toxic Valley of Dr Matt Landos examining a dead oyster at the Richmond River. Picture: Supplied.

"What we saw in Kasargode was shocking, there was not a single person not affected," Mr Kurian said.

"We have looked at both sides of the story," he said. "We know that our documentary is not going to change farming habits tomorrow . . . What we want is to generate as much discussion as possible."

In Australia, the film features Dr Matt Landos, a veterinary scientist campaigning against pesticide use on cashew farms and canefields near the Richmond River near Ballina.

"They think the name Ballina comes from a word which means "a place of fish and oysters", but now all the oysters are dead," Mrs Kurian said.

"We went on a boat ride . . . We might have travelled for a mile or so and I can tell you, not a single bird. That's so unusual for Australia, usually you'll see so many water birds, even if you look at the Parramatta River."

The documentary, to be released by the end of the year, is the couple’s own project, financed from their own savings and through online crowd funding. With it, the Kurians hope to bring the broader issue of agricultural pesticides to public scrutiny and pressure governments for change.

‘‘Endosulfan is just one. If you consider there are around six million pounds of different pesticides used around the world each year,’’ Mrs Kurian said.

‘‘It’s about time we checked this habit.’’

Of current concern for the Kurians is a recent Bill passed by the Australian government, which they said will axe a scheme designed to eliminate dangerous chemicals including pesticides from food and other agriculture production.

‘‘The regulation [required farmers and regulators to] reapply for registration [of chemicals] every few years if there were any studies during that time that said there was a problem. Then the regulators could stop using it. But Barnaby Joyce has decided that’s not required, that it’s ‘red tape’ for farmers," Mr Kurian said.

‘‘[In Australia] when the pesticides are made, they’re just put into the field, they haven’t been tested [by Australian scientists]. They really only get tested once you start using it, and it’s then you start seeing issues emerging,’’ Mrs Kurian said.

''If you do not have that safety net, then what’s the point of regulation?''

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