Syngenta is a Swiss agribusiness company (in competition with Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, & Dupont) that produces genetically-modified seeds, herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, fungicides–the entire menu of toxic chemicals they lather on the global food supply. To further its economic interests, it lathers US political candidates & organizations with lobbying money–$1,150,000 in 2012. To promote its image in community service, it’s begun to sponsor an annual photography contest on the theme of “Scarcity-Waste” to address their claim that the world faces “increasingly limited resources.” That claim of course is used to justify population control/eugenics programs & explain away the massive unemployment & immigration rates. They just announced the 2015 winners.
Later this year, the 2015 winning photos will be touring, including in several cities in Brazil. Could that be a Syngenta gesture of “no hard feelings” for the 2007 shootout where their hired goon squad killed one protester & injured several other landless farmers of the Landless Workers’ Movement protesting land grabs?
Syngenta also has operations in the Philippines where agribusiness has destroyed the livelihoods of millions of farmers & driven them into urban slums. That must be why this photo is one of the 2015 finalists–another act of contrition to mask their crimes. The photo is of the slum surrounding Smokey Mountain dump site in Tondo, a district of Manila, Philippines.
Smokey Mountain was a landfill site since the 1950s & in forty years became a smoldering potpourri of toxicity & disease where unemployed scavenged for recyclables. In response to international notoriety, the Filipino government stopped delivering trucks of garbage there in 1995 & declared it closed but without providing alternative employment or housing to the 30,000 residents of the area.
Syngenta has lots of connections to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), a financial institution involved in establishing neoliberal agribusiness in the Philippines & elsewhere–& not just agribusiness but the entire panoply of neoliberal austerity & impoverishment of working people. The ADB boasts of the microenterprises their largesse has helped establish in Tondo, including cooperatives for masonry services, handicrafts, a commercial water-supply service, & an eco-laundromat. Those employed are now between 200 & 300. Maybe a couple hundred more–but what about the other 29,700 unemployed scavengers?
Without a public housing project, what the Filipino regime & neoliberal institutions established is essentially a refugee camp surrounded by garbage dumpsites–because though Smokey Mountain is closed they continue to dump landfill in the area. Residents call it Happy Land–a name ironically derived from what local dialects call smelly garbage: hapilan.
As part of neoliberal austerity, there are no health facilities in Happy Land where the tuberculosis rate is one of the highest in the world & when chemical vapors & rotting unmentionables from the landfill create massive respiratory, skin, intestinal, & other catastrophic health problems.
Happy Land has become one of the sites in the world attracting slum tourists–a phenomenon rooted in privilege, racism, & white supremacy. The accounts of some of those tourists speak of the “poor but happy,” of the delight at seeing a white visitor–or they pity-monger.
The militancy of many slum residents in the Philippines belies the accounts of the ADB, the public relations factory of the regime, the rancid accounts of slum voyeurs. We stand in solidarity with them & hope that soon working people in more privileged countries will get off their leaden asses & put an end to neoliberal plunder.
(Photo by Lasse Bak Mejlvang)