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The Wild Life of Pesticides: urban agriculture, institutional responsibility, and the future of biodiversity in Sydney's Hawkesbury-Nepean River

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Agricultural chemicals are a notoriously intractable source of environmental pollution. Offering enhanced agricultural productivity, they simultaneously risk degrading the ecological basis upon which agriculture depends. This paper considers chemicalisation as a cause of the erosion of aquatic biodiversity and ecosystem resilience, focusing on the Hawkesbury-Nepean River and the small-scale horticulturalists who supply the city's fresh vegetable markets, working under the pressure of urbanisation, retail monopolies, indifferent land-use planning, and often without access to information about pesticide use in the languages they understand. Arguing that standard practices of ‘risk management’ are unable to adequately control chemical contamination, the paper presents findings from interviews with actors within the ‘assemblage’ of institutions with responsibility for agriculture, water quality, and environmental protection, in order to assess the effectiveness of pesticide governance in the Greater Sydney Basin. It appears that pesticide pollution is far from being tamed: it is rarely measured nor monitored, neither is it a priority of any particular agency. Arguing that public health, the long-term viability of local farming and the ecological well-being of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River are mutually consistent goals, we conclude that these vital elements of the common-weal are currently subject to a system of ‘organised irresponsibility’. The paper concludes by proposing several ways forward.
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Keywords: Chemical risk and regulation; Hawkesbury-Nepean River; biodiversity; food security; land-use planning; urban agriculture

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Institute for Sustainable Futures,University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Australia 2: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences,UTS, Australia 3: Faculty of Science,UTS, Australia 4: Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building,UTS, Australia 5: Freelance Designer, Sydney, Australia

Publication date: 2012-03-01

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