Of PAN, Passion and Vision for our Future

Interview with Anwar Fazal in Pesticide Monitor, Vol.9, No.1, April 2000


Considered lovingly by many in the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) global family as the ‘father’ of PAN, Anwar Fazal has long been an inspiration to those in the movement for a more just, safe and sustainable world.   Anwar is the Vice  Chair, and Steering Council Member of Pesticide Action Network – Asia-Pacific (PAN AP).


In December 1982, Anwar was conferred the Right Livelihood Award, popularly called the “Alternative Nobel Prize” for his work in promoting and protecting public interest issues. He was awarded the title “Activist of the Year” in 1983, by Ralph Nader’s magazine, Multinational Monitor, and elected to the “Environment Hall of Fame” by Mother Earth News. In 1988, he was presented with the “Global 500” Award by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for his work on consumers and the environment.


He recently took time off from his busy schedule to visit the PAN AP office to share a cup of tea, a few insights from the past, and his vision for the future.


On the Birth of PAN in 1982


In the late 1970’s, Penang had already emerged as a leading centre for citizens’ organisations. It was the home of the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP), one of the leading consumers’ organisations in the ‘Third World’. The International Organization of Consumers’ Union (IOCU) now known as Consumers’ International also had their office here. The IOCU office was the ‘de facto’ global headquarters during the years I was president of that organisation – that was from 1978 to 1984. There was at that time a whole new wave in the consumer movement, and a number of new organisations had developed. There were citizens’ networks around very specific issues. For example, the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) had developed around the issue of protecting and promoting breastfeeding from transnational baby food products; and around the issue of pharmaceuticals, the Health Action International (HAI) had evolved.


And there was at that time also a tremendous proliferation of citizens interest in the environment, particularly after the 1972 Stockholm Conference on Environment and Development. Also, there was in the development movement a great deal of concern about the links between social justice, environment justice, and human rights.


It was under all this social chemistry that PAN was born. There were very special people, some very special books and very special organisations.


There were also very serious concerns over environmental, human rights, and economic issues. There was as well the whole question of how pesticides were being used and the way agriculture was being organised. There were also concerns about the way in which North-South relations were operating. And the way in which multinational corporations were emerging as a whole new power in the global game, running and even ruining people’s lives.


There was David Weir’s classic book,  Circle of Poison. David Bull from OXFAM, who was working on pesticides – his important work, Growing Problems: Pesticides and Third World Poor was also a classic. There were the Food First people from the Institute of Food and Development Policy (IFDP), who were very strategic in the founding of PAN. I had many chats with Joe Collins of IFDP, about how we should move in this field. There was also David Chatfield from Friends of the Earth (FoE), a networking organisation that was very significant at that particular time in the global environmental agenda. They had a branch here in Penang, called Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) or Friends of the Earth Malaysia.


It was IOCU or consumers’ International as it is now called, with SAM. Who together hosted the first international conference around the issue of pesticides.


But the birth of PAN went back a little earlier. It was at the 1981 World Consumer Congress in the Hague, at the opening ceremony when I spoke about the launching of Consumer Interpol - a global network about the trade in hazardous products and how citizens can fight back this trade of poison. I was approached in the corridors by Miss F. Rosenzweig. who was the chairperson and director of a small organisation called Mondail Alternative. She said “you must do something about pesticide like you have done about breastfeeding and about pharmaceuticals - you must! The situation is terrible”.


So we at IOCU began a series of meetings in the Hague with the Union of Dutch Scientists, OXFAM and Mondail Alternative. And as a result of these discussions we said we should have a meeting. There was an interest in holding a global meeting in Holland itself, which the Dutch government were interested in funding. But there were concerns that rather than having a big global meeting in Holland which will be dominated by the North, we should instead begin work and build up groups in the South. And link them so that we can begin a better understanding of the real concerns of people in the South.


{This idea was greatly supported by IFDP (Food First people), supported David Bull of OXFAM (the I think that it is important that one exercises, takes care of one’s health and has a sense of humour. As and so we met in Penang, on the 28 May 1982.


After four days of very detailed discussions about the issue, that remarkable group of people, some 40 people from nearly 20 countries round the world  - Africa, Latin America, Europe, North America met with a group from Asia - gave birth to PAN. It was to be a very special, lightly structured, action oriented network that was going to deal with the, whole issue of the misuse of pesticides. And also focus on the social justice, economic viability, ecological sustainability elements of this important issue.


So that was how PAN was born in Penang! It was a remarkable place to be born because it had a wonderful environment and very creative people. It has also become a wonderful place as a host to PAN Asia and the Pacific, which is doing remarkable work and has been growing from strength to strength.


On the achievements of PAN that he is most fond of…


There were many! I think the most significant is that it has maintained it’s vision, it has been clearly focused, creative, consistent, and it has been led by very committed and competent people.


Of the campaigns, the campaign around the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides (FAO Code), and the ‘Dirty Dozen’ pesticides campaign were outstanding achievements. They have had great impact globally.


Now there is concern about the 3 “G’s”, Gender, Genetic Engineering and working closely with Grassroots organisation. These are again very important issues, and it shows that PAN is at the forefront, and in touch with the real issues, and reacting and keeping in touch with real people of the world.


On PAN’s greatest strengths...


I would say people. People and people, PAN has been able to draw upon some wonderful people to its organisation and to its work. This combined with its clear vision, global linkages and light action oriented management has led it to achieving remarkable things with very low cost and great effectiveness. It has drawn a number of young people to its work and this again is extremely important for social movements.


On what keeps him going, and involved in various activities both locally and globally...


There is a lot to be done. One’s life must not be wasted. There are  important things like positive thinking, being action oriented, keeping in touch with people with a vision, people concerned with issues, and a remarkable renewing circle of activists.


All these are emerging and in addition to that, I think that it is important that one exercises, takes care of one’s health and has a sense of humor. As they say, laughter is very good. Song is very good for movement. I think we should learn and do more about celebrating our little victories.


On what, if anything, he would do differently if he could retrace his steps …


I think we have done extremely well and if there is anything I would like to have done more, I think it would have been spending more and more time developing young people. Capacity building for leadership is the most critical thing. I always have this philosophy: I spend one third of my time with creating leadership and building up the next generation. I always believe that if any social movement is to have a future, it must invest in the next generation!


True leadership is not just about leading, it’s about creating more leaders. Only then will you find that there is sustainability and growth.


On the major challenges, and his vision for PAN


I think the challenges will not change from the last two decades. It is going to be what I describe as A, B, and C. It is going to continue to be Agro-toxins. They are not going to go away. The consequences are going to be around with us for a long time but in addition to agro-toxins we have the new challenges of Bioethics and Biotechnology, and these are going to be extremely serious issues from the health, ethical and economic point of views.


And the 'C' is the total Communication ability: to speak out and to move information around. To be good in communicating with grassroots, to be good both with the drums, we could say the "Tom Toms", and at the same time with the "dot com", with the new information technologies!


The other ABC which is underpinning the movement is that, there must always be this soul, of firstly, there must be Anger. We must always be angry about things that are wrong in our society. Secondly, we must be Brave, we must be courageous to stand up to speak out, and to do things. And thirdly, we must be Competent. We must have all the management and technical skills that are necessary. I think for PAN, these things - anger, bravery, and competency, are extremely important.


These qualities have been part of PAN's personality and I hope they continue to be part of PAN's personality. I think they will be, because of the leadership that it has, and the remarkable people that are part of the movement.


Of his vision for PAN …


I think there are five core elements.



·         We all want to see a world, firstly, where there is social justice.

·         Secondly, we want to see that there is ecological sustainability.

·         Thirdly, we want to see that there is economic productivity of things that are needed by the community.

·         Fourthly, we need cultural vibrancy, recognition of our diversity, celebrating our uniqueness, respecting our past. At the same time creating a future.

·         Lastly we want to have a culture of popular participation where the citizens have a real opportunity of participation in decision-making that affects their lives locally and globally.


Unfortunately we live in a world where so much is wrong. But with the new era of communication, we have also the opportunity to make the kind of links, to express the kind of solidarity that can give us the strength to achieve these visions.


On his vision for a safer sustainable world….


PAN has to continue to be focussed on what I called earlier the ABCs but in addition I would say three things that are going to be very important.


One is capacity building. We have to continue to build the capacities of more and more young people. We have to enlarge the number of young people involved in our movement. We have to try and articulate our activities in ways that young people can begin to link up. So there is training and excitement that we have to draw into our movement. If we don’t do that, then we will not have a future.


Secondly, there is a new global opportunity. The global civil society movements and citizens’ consciousness are at a new peak. The Seattle experience is an example of the way in which the ideals of democracy, transparency and accountability are sweeping around the world. This is a great opportunity for civil society and PAN has to be right in front, to make the kinds of links of this movement and this new energy for social justice, locally and globally.


Lastly, the challenge of bioethics and bioengineering itself gives us great new opportunities for new alliances. Because we have a technology with horrendous consequences, there is an opportunity for new alliances with new kinds of groups including religious groups where we can work for that world that all of us would like to see safer, more just, more sustainable.

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