Sebastian is eighteen, but looks like a seven-year-old. He was born with hydrocephalus. His parents had been exposed to agricultural chemicals while working as farm laborers in Villa Guerrero, a major flower-growing center in Mexico. As the country has enforced no controls on the use of agricultural chemicals, there is now a health crisis caused by water and soil pollution, with pesticides and fertilizers having toxic, degenerative, carcinogenic, and mutagenic effects on both humans and livestock.
Volatile agricultural chemicals pollute the streets of Villa Guerrero causing serious damage when high levels are inhaled. Epidemiological studies conducted in flower-growing regions of Mexico where there is widespread use of organophosphate fertilizers and carbamate pesticides have found that 12% of pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth, and that up to 20% of babies are born with congenital malformations.
Yet stories of birth defects, chronic disease, chemotherapy, dialysis, amputation and the death of babies, all of which are part of the family life of so many peasants and flower growers, remain mostly unaddressed by local authorities and the healthcare system of Villa Guerrero. For decades, the region has neglected the need for specialized medical centers, while people with serious conditions have had to travel for hours to reach larger urban centers for access to medical treatment and rehabilitation programs. As a result, the economic burden of small flower producers and day laborers is often compounded by debts incurred for healthcare.
Flower production in Villa Guerrero is competitive, and the region is a cogwheel in the global billion-dollar flower industry. Children such as Sebastian are simply dismissed as collateral damage. Farming families realize that the flower industry effectively deprives them of any other livelihood opportunities, and they are also fully aware of the hazards of exposure to agricultural chemicals. Most agree that the problem is not flower farming, but the farming practices. The people of Villa Guerrero have seen their well-being cut short, much like the flowers sold for ornamental purposes; but while cut flowers are ephemeral, working on a flower farm brings the risk of dire long-term health problems.
Beautiful Poison is a tribute recognizing the plight of people whose lives are sacrificed to grow flowers in Villa Guerrero. It is a long-term photography project on agrochemicals, documenting the lives of five families in the region, at home, at work, growing and selling flowers, and also at healthcare centers, showing the coping mechanisms they have in their everyday life, coping with work-related disease and disability.
Cristopher Rogel Blanquet
Unless otherwise indicated, the pictures were taken in Villa Guerrero, State of Mexico, Mexico, between March 2020 and February 2023.