This is the Northern Territory. Australian governments (COAG) have taken away our right to local food sovereignty by destroying all healthy heritage banana plants in most of the Top End and promising to allow us one or two tissue cultured banana plants grown in laboratories and allocated to authorised nurseries. These ‘sentinel plants’ are constantly monitored by agricultural inspectors for the economic pest ‘Phyllosticta Cavendishii’. It is not harmful to the environment or to public health.
What is harmful to the environment and public health is the Monsanto chemical used to destroy our banana plants – Glyphosate. The World Health Organisation has alerted the world to its probable carcinogenic qualities.
At least two people in the Darwin and rural area are seriously ill -and may not recover – from stress-related and chemical drift symptoms and several domestic and farm animals have died from direct ingestion of Glyphosate used by Freckle Inspectors on otherwise chemical-free gardens and crops.
The picture above clearly shows the measures Department of Primary Industries (DPI) ‘inspectors’ have taken to invade properties to look for illegal banana plants and regrowth.
They scale fences and break locks on gates when landholders are not at home and, under current law are protected from negligence, theft or property damage.
In one case, inspectors entered a rural market garden and applied undiluted Glyphosate Ultra unto banana regrowth plants. This also caused death to herbs, paw-paw trees and a healthy, foraging family of chooks that were dependent on the integrated production system. An elderly aunt became ill and was sent south for treatment. She remains with family members down south.
A notable Local Court case was because two homegrowers (in their 70s) initially refused to remove their healthy banana plants as the staple diet of one of the property holders with terminal cancer. When they finally agreed to inspectors entering their property to remove banana plants, they refused to allow them to use glyphosate to poison the stumps and the soil. The more robust property holder was prosecuted. The one with cancer was not.The judge in the case at first admonished the defendant for risking his wife’s health by not negotiating with the government. She then retracted this with: ‘Then again, perhaps you didn’t have that choice’.
Kay died from cancer in December 2016.
Another backyard grower then presented documents to the Small Claims Court in Darwin for compensation for forced entry to his property, removal of 40 healthy banana plants and negligent use of poison by ‘inspectors’ throughout his property.This has gone on to the NT Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
A group of local market gardeners dependent on selling their chemical-free produce in the Darwin area is also seeking legal advice and action for compensation and damage to their rural farms and personal pain and suffering.
The former NT Government introduced two additions to the formal Biosecurity of the NT before being ousted. The NT Government gazette notice ensures that the NT Plant Health regs now clearly show that – while the banana freckle quarantine process is still in place – it allows for permitted bananas. The Biosecurity Strategy asks for members of the NT community to take responsibility for biosecurity. It’s a bit like the Bushfires Act saying that fires on private properties are the owners’ responsibility but that, since everyone lights fires (as per the then Minister) everyone has to accept authorised intervention to ‘mitigate’ this.
The environment suffers when conservative governments rush to ‘develop the north’ while ignoring the underlying rumbles from environmental science and sustainable, commonsense practice.
There are new quarantine signs on selected farm gates around the Litchfield rural area. They do not specify any pest. This is a hint that ‘biosecurity’ has reached our farm gates. There is a common perception among small-scale, poly and perma culture farmers that our practical, organic methods of farming prevent diseases. Any responsible integrated farmer, educator and wildlife protector has locked the gate against unnecessary invasion of privacy by linear introspectors – for the good of proper, practical biosafety and diversity – not as a formality.
While RRRG supports quarantine regulations for serious diseases that threaten the health of the environment and people, it does not support one rule for Queensland banana growers – with the right to keep banana plants that are a potential host to Panama Disease (a Category 2 pest that threatens the banana industry and the environment) and another for Top End growers (destroy all of our banana plants with the potential to host Banana Freckle (a Category 3 pest that only threatens large-scale, monocultural economic interests of Queensland baanana growers).
An NT Labor government that cares for the health of local people and the environment needs to consult with RRRG and other local grassroots food producers to find a balance that excludes Monsanto, GM production and corporate export-oriented agribusiness.
The days of Cavendish bananas are numbered. There is general consensus amongst food scientists around the world that this cultivar has been over-cloned and is not resistant to plant diseases. It’s time to start producing bananas from highly-resilient heritage stock of the more than 600 varieties and colours used by backyard and subsistence growers.
Here’s a bunch of red bananas – tasting like banana with a hint of apricot. Delicious!
The past highly suspect and negligent actions of DPI officials and Wee Willy (former DPI minister who lost his seat in the 2016 election but joined the new government’s taxpayer-funded trade mission overseas) have destroyed a long-term social and subsistence culture of growing and consuming local heritage bananas. While our banana plants may potentially host a pest that is easily managed by cutting off diseased leaves/fronds, there are several other tropical food plants that are partial to damaging plant pests.
The eradication of every heritage banana plant in the Top End Red Zones was – as Wee Willy Westra Van Holthe pointed out – ‘the first program (pogrom??) of its kind in Australia’.Let’s hope it’s the last!
May there be no more deaths caused by over-zealous chemical use on our food plants and stress from protecting our chemical-free food production system!
Food Sovereignty in general
RRRG supports the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance .
The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance effectively campaigns on behalf of millions of Australians who want a fairer, more sustainable and more resilient food system.
In December 2016, the federal Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) allowed the Queensland University of Technology to grow GM banana plants in the Red Zone of the NT in January 2017. RRRG objected to this mainly because no-one else is allowed to grow non-authorised heritage banana plants in this zone. RRRG was of the opinion that this OGTR decision set a precedent for all other banana growers to disregard the NT DPI-arranged date of 31 May 2017 for planting heritage bananas.
RRRG has recently asked the NT Government to please explain why there has been no media notices telling potential banana growers that the blitz on growing heritage banana plants is over.
The NT Labor government should stand up for local residents’ rights to grow heritage food plants for their family and community consumption. It should be our choice to keep healthy plants while guaranteeing that those with the potential to host a pest that may adversely affect monocultural large-scale commercial interests will be kept out of the market economy.
Lest we forget Kay Harbeck!!