Mara Calliari's educational program to raise awareness of the health risks involved in working with agricultural chemicals has focused people's attention on the issues and brought forth alternatives to minimize the risks.
Mara Calliari grew up in Passo Fundo, a relatively remote farming region in the extreme south of Brazil in Rio Grande do Sul. During her initial career as a nurse Calliari was astonished at the large number of birth deformities she was seeing and she grew to suspect agricultural chemicals as a prime cause. Recognizing ignorance of the issue as a major root of the problem, she set out to raise public awareness of the dangerous effects of agricultural chemicals and pesticides.
Calliari intends to fill the existing vacuum in the awareness of Brazil's farmers, and their neighbors regarding the health implications of the chemical-based farming techniques that were introduced on a large and intensive scale in the 1970s.
Since the 1970s Brazilian farmers have used techniques that rely heavily on chemicals. Calliari conducted a study of births in the hospitals to see what causal linkages she might be able to document. The results of her study strongly indicated that the number of deformities was much higher in agricultural areas than urban areas. They also strongly suggested that the rate of deformities had increased since pesticide use had been implemented.
Having confirmed her initial suspicion that chemical-based agriculture is the chief cause of child deformities, Calliari is determined to divulge to Brazil's general public the detrimental effects of toxic chemicals to our bodies and our environment.The main thrust of Calliari's program is educational. She aims to educate people from all walks of life. She conducted educational seminars to explain the side-effects of over-reliance on chemicals in farming to students of all ages, teachers, rural workers, agronomic experts, health professionals, and government officials from the relevant ministries. She has gained volunteer support which has allowed her to expand her outreach. The project involves an average of 1,200 people a week, evidence that the program is being well received. In addition, she has started support groups in the communities she has reached to ensure that awareness does not end with her program. Calliari has successfully extended her educational program to reach the surrounding communities. In effect, Calliari's work has even attracted attention of some foreign organizations. In the first quarter of 1988 alone, Calliari's program reached a total of two thousand people, most of whom were rural workers who had previously relied heavily on chemicals. She now intends to carry her educational program to a much broader area. She proposes to study and help the major tobacco and rice farming areas since these two crops entail maximum exposure to toxins and have to-date made almost no use of alternative methods of farming.