tv Global 3000 PBS March 2, 2018 7:30pm-8:01pm PST
announcer: opportunity. prosperity. optimism. where water is everywhere, making it a veritable playground for kids, but a potentially deadly one. to benin, where voodoo is a state religion. many are helped by it, but children often suffer from its decrees. but first, let's look at the humble banana -- the most popular fruit in the world. could it soon be wiped out? in one way, germany is certainly a banana republic. its citizens eat 12 kilograms of
the yellow fruit every year on average -- americans are the only nationality to consume more. in 2016, around 113 million tons of bananas were harvested worldwide, but the vast majority of them were from a single cloned variety -- the cavendish. huge monocultures are an open invitation to pests and pathogens. one of them -- a soil fungus called tr4 -- has spread rapidly in southeast asia, and caused major damage in many countries there. and tr4 is far from the only destructive fungus. experts have long said the days of the cavendish are numbered. that's causing major concern in ecuador -- bananas are the country's number one export. reporter: no, there's not an airport ahead. the sign is warning drivers about low-flying aircraft, spraying banana fields in southern ecuador with fungicides as a preventive measure. they make their runs two or three times a week. their target is black sigatoka,
a fungus that is to bananas what bubonic plague once was to humans. darwin palacios owns four conventional non-organic banana plantations. it's a family business. darwin: black sigatoka is not a disease you can eradicate. you have to learn how to live with it. it will always be there. it's a fungus that thrives under these favorable, humid conditions. all we can do is carry out regular checks to make sure there isn't an outbreak that will damage the banana crop. and make sure that the leaves and the fruit stay healthy. reporter: once the fungus has taken hold, it's hard to fight. ecuador has been mainly spared so far, due to its climate not being as humid and rainy as central america, for example, where fungicide is needed three times as often. bananas are propagated asexually from offshoots. the main plant produces smaller shoots at its base. they are removed and
transplanted. generally, the young shoots bear fruit within nine months. darwin: this way we can select the best plants. we actually get them cloned in the laboratory, so they have the same genetic properties. that guarantees that we always get the best possible fruit -- the best clusters with the highest weight -- so we get the best production per hectare. reporter: but asexual reproduction has a major risk -- the plant is no longer able to genetically adapt, and that makes it vulnerable to natural enemies. practically all the bananas eaten around the world are the fruit of a single cultivar -- the cavendish. and unfortunately, it's not resistant to black sigatoka. the fungicides being sprayed here don't pose a health risk to
consumers, but they do to plantation workers. organic bananas are an increasingly important sector, making up 10% of total production. organic growers are taking a new approach, like here in el pinco. agronomist gonzalo marx peñarreta was exposed to farming chemicals for three years. he worked for a pesticide wholesaler -- until he got sick. gonzalo: i worked for a company that sold farming products -- like pesticides, and so forth. i had to work on the fields that were being sprayed by the airplanes. that's how i got sick. pesticide use makes the plantation workers sick. once they've reached a certain age, they lose their nails, they get cancer, they lose their hair and their eyesight. it's all too much.
reporter: it's hard to get official figures on health problems caused by pesticides, but in this region, everyone seems to know someone who has gotten sick. the organic plantations only use natural substances, like manure, bacterial extracts, algae extracts, and oils that may help slow growth of pests like the sigatoka fungus. gonzalo: on a conventional plantation, you can go walking at night and you won't encounter anything on the ground. on an organic farmyou'll find weeds, worms, ants, and all kinds of different insects. reporter: ecuador is undergoing some changes. after the country switched its currency to the u.s. dollar in 2000, the economy made a modest recovery. and that's also has encouraged a new, ecological way of thinking. on his farm, darwin palacios has standardized his production. the yields in the various parts of the farm are systematically monitored. that helps palacios apply
fertilizer, water, and pesticides more efficiently -- and in the process, he can save money. darwin: here we get all kinds of information about the harvested trees. the most important information is their weight. we can also determine the age of the plant and the lot where the fruit came from. and using that information, we can see if something is wrong with that section, and we can intervene and improve things there if necessary. reporter: then the fruit is prepared for shipment from machala to europe. the bananas are still green when they're sent off. ripening will be initiated using ethylene gas once they've reached their destination. but research continues. the goal is to breed plants that are completely resistant to the fungus.
fungicides will then become unnecessary -- at least until the next pathogen strikes the plantations. host: leaving science behind, let's consider matters of a more spiritual nature. practices may vary, but millions of people around the planet are united by a belief in something otherworldly. take crop circles, for example. some see them as supernatural phenomena -- others as messages from extraterrestrials. in russia, a third of the population believes in astrology. the nation as a whole spends an estimated 22 million euros a year on spiritual services. reporter: the altay mountains -- this is where russia borders mongolia, kazakhstan, and china. it's a destination for generations of pilgrims that come from miles around seeking
spiritual guidance. legend has it that this is a place to embark on a path of inner change. yelena: the locals say that if you think out loud then your thoughts come true. it's important to remind yourself of that in spiritual places like these. reporter: visitors here call themselves modern pilgrims. they're drawn to yoga, healing rituals, and self-inquiry. yelena gomayun leads groups of stressed out city dwellers to the altay mountains. >> i was here a year ago, and all my wishes were fulfilled. i came to relax, but also to find miracles. reporter: gomayun leads the visitors to the icons of the village monastery.
the confluence of these two rivers is the place to wish for a spouse. yelena: i think we russians in particular were always on a search for meaning. that's the way we are. i remember being a small child in the soviet union, and one of my relatives went to a healer. that kind of thing was normal. reporter: in a village in southwestern russia, nadia melgunova says women like her used to be burned at the stake. but nowadays, doctors refer their patients to her. she's known locally as the babushka, the village matriarch. nadia offers treatments with water, wax, and prayers. but she only receives people who have been baptized.
nadia: there you go. you were really scared. but you're not scared anymore. everyone comes to me. rich, poor, even healthy people. if people are afraid, i can heal them. i can help fight against the evil eye, sore throats, bad skin, inflammation. lots of things. reporter: hundreds of kilometers away from nadia's village is another place where people arrive from moscow and beyond, hoping for miracles. nadejda starzeva doesn't have it easy. her husband recently committed suicide. alcohol was involved. and jealousy. she has additional problems. nadejda: i am scared about what the doctors say about some dark spots on my lungs. and i want to know how my children are doing. i have a lot of children.
i worry about them. reporter: thousands of people have sought help from vadim petrovich over the years. he tells nadejda that the crosses formed by the matches floating in the water symbolize the burden of life. he prophesizes an illness in her daughter and says he sees the shadows in nadejda's lungs. petrovich predicts a new man will soon enter her life. then he tells her to drink the water that he has blessed. payment is optional -- people give what they can. vadim: i do my best to cleanse away all the negative energy. i was hoping fewer people would make their way here, but actually more and more are coming. reporter: in the former soviet union, belief in the supernatural was an open secret. the psychokinetic experiments involving nina kulagina, who claimed to have psychic powers, were watched by the government
in the 1960's. shortly before the soviet union collapsed, a self-professed psychic named anatoly kashpirovsky appeared on tv to conduct mass healing sessions to millions throughout the soviet bloc. and the faith healer juna davitashvili was sought by many in the politburo. her famous patients included soviet premier leonid brezhnev and later, president boris yeltsin. nearly 30 years later, countless healing services online represent a major enterprise. the patriarch of the russian orthodox church considers president vladimir putin's rise to power a miracle of god. he also foresees an impending apocalypse. it's not uncommon for a police officer to ask a priest to bless the sis of numerous car accidents. jesus has become an antidote for misfortune. sociologists point to depression, anxiety, and a disoriented society as an
explanation for the rising belief in magical thinking. lev: people have no idea what's going to happen in the near future. they plan their lives from one paycheck to the next, maybe a few months at most. reporter: back in the atay mountains, the spiritual guide yelena gamayun insists healers are more than a rural phenomenon. she says her clients from moscow couldn't get by without people like her. in a country where reality is a painful experience for many, russians cope by hoping for miracles. host: russians aren't the only ones who believe in higher powers. so do people who practice voodoo -- an ancient religion rooted in western africa. believers pray to a supreme being and around 400 other spirits like the gods of thunder or water.
benin is considered the cradle of voodoo. in the 16th century, the religion spread to the americas with the slave trade -- particularly brazil, haiti, the dominican republic, and the u.s. state of louisiana. voodoo has around 60 million adherents worldwide. in benin, around one in five people hold the belief. but some of the practices common in voodoo are highly controversial. reporter: performing a dance for the thunder-god. houndedji is among the few villagers to master the dance. she learned it while she was confined to a voodoo convent. for houndedji, it was an agonizing three years in which she had no contact with the outside world. houndedji: the worst thing was not seeing my family.
and there was no proper place to go to the toilet or to wash. there was often not enough to eat, and we were constantly hungry. reporter: houndedji lives in a small village. people here believe in voodoo, and in the practice of confining children in convents in order to heal their illnesses and drive evil spirits out of their bodies. when houndedji was eight years old, she suffered from frequent stomach pains and a high fever. her mother brought her to the hospital, but the doctors there were unable to help. the village priest advised sending her to the voodoo convent, which meant years of almost complete isolation. >> i knew that my daughter would suffer under the conditions there. there's not enough to eat. here on the outside, i have enough food, but i wasn't allowed to bring anything to her in the convent.
reporter: houndedji shows us the way from her home back to the convent. the place of painful memories lies in the center of the village, just meters away from her house. but for three years, she lived behind this fence, in another world -- inaccessible to her family. houndedji brings us to the fortune-teller who she visited when she was sick back then. it was the village oracle who decided her fate. the oracle said that the thunder-god had to be appeased in order to heal houndedji. according to local beliefs, that meant years of isolation. children sent to the convent do not go to school during that time. instead, they spend their days praying, dancing, and learning a voodoo language. houndedji: i was healed within three months by the prayers, the herbs and the leaves.
but i still had to stay. reporter: for three long years -- during which time she also had to have the tribe's symbol cut into her face. houndedji: they made the markings with a razor blade. it really hurt. these are the signs of the thunder-god. reporter: like the ones on these boys' chests. many children are marked with scars. the cuttg is traditional element of voodoo beliefs, and part of many rituals. knives play a role in this ceremony, too, although the children do not actually hurt themselves. this group of children are being released today after having been confined for years in one of benin's thousands of voodoo convents. attitudes are changing, but only gradually. aid organizations were able to convince central benin's high priest to sign an agreement limiting the time that children would have to stay in the convent to a maximum of three months.
mama: the new arrangement allows the children to go to school. i myself cannot read and write, so it's very awkward when i have an official meeting. i think it's important for children to go to school. reporter: several hundred priests and local government officials have signed the agreement. it enabled the release of more than 1000 children last year, who have returned to their families and to school. but while the time spent in the convent has been shortened, the practice has yet to be abolished completely. while filming, we witness how a seven-year-old girl with severe stomach pains consults the oracle and the voodoo high priest. she anxiously awaits their decision. then the judgment -- three months isolation in the convent in order to heal her. without even being able to say
goodbye to her parents, she is brought to the convent, directly to the sacrificial altar of the earth-god. the girl needs a lot of time to calm down, while the priest's aide prays and brings initial offerings for the earth-god. from there, the girl is brought to the small mud hut where she is to spend the next three months. houndedji, meanwhile, is back in school. but readjusting to normal life was not easy. houndedji: at first i didn't recognize my friends. it was so embarrassing. reporter: after missing three years, she still has trouble keeping up. but she does still have four years of schooling ahead of her, and the chance to make up for all that precious time she lost while in the convent.
host: in many parts of the world, the carefree days of childhood include spending warm days in a swimming pool, river, or lake. that makes it easy to forget that swimming is not an innate skill. four billion people around the globe are unable to swim -- that's more than half the world's population. drowning is one of the most common causes of accidental death. every minute on average, two people somewhere in the world will drown. reporter: majeda begam treasures her daughter's clothes. one month ago, six-year-old aiyascha drowned near their village. majeda: she was such a good daughter, she was always helping
me. everyone loved her. aiyascha would have loved to have had an education. reporter: aiyascha's older sister farjsana is a great comfort to her mother. she misses her sister every day. farjsana: we did everything together. we walked to school, played together afterwards, and ate together. reporter: one fifth of bangladesh is just a meter above sea level. but many here cannot swim. the statistics are shocking -- 50 children drown every day in the south asian country. these children have learned to swim and have a lot of fun splashing about just a stone's throw from their homes. most villages are situated on pools like this one. they're used as laundry, bathing area, and playground.
>> i learned to swim last month. it's great in the water. so nice and cool. >> before i could swim i was afraid of the water. now, it's fun. reporter: children who can't swim can only watch from the bank. they need to be careful. it's very easy to slip in the mud and fall in. four-year-old rubjol says that he cannot swim, but definitely wants to learn to. for now, he only bathes where it's shallow. farjsana has set off for the next village with her mother. today there are swimming lessons taking place there. farjsana knows how to swim, and now she wants to become a swimming teacher. so she's helping the instructor. farjsana: learning how to swim
is really important for us kids. many die, as my sister did, because they can't swim. reporter: sumata tasmin schumi is giving the lessons. in this mostly muslim country, female teachers aren't a common sight. her training is financed by a british organization, which has helped to set up more than 100 courses in bangladesh. sumata: i'm in the twelfth grade. a year ago, two children in my village drowned. afterwards, i wanted to become a swimming instructor. and i'm very happy about it. reporter: finally, after practicing on dry land, it's time to hit the water. here in bangladesh, women swim fully-clothed. a special bamboo practice area
has been constructed for beginners. there's a floor, so that no one can slip and go under. farjsana's mother is still understandably nervous. farjsana and the teacher try and help the children overcome their fear of the water. sumata: she is still young and quite shy, but she'll soon get better at it. if she's determined, she'll be a good instructor -- perhaps even better than me. reporter: they practice swimming two hours every day. then they head home to help out with the chores. almost all of the children can swim after five days, according to the aid organization that organizes the courses. al-amin: children in bangladesh die all too often of diarrhea, cholera, malaria, meningitis, and other diseases. but 18,000 children also die by drowning. we have to do something about that.
reporter: darkness is falling. farjsana and her family are eating dinner. they miss aiyascha desperately. majeda: all children should learn how to swim. then they wouldn't drown, like my youngest daughter did. it's so important. reporter: farjsana feels the same. what did you think? let us know. send us an email and check out our facebook page -- dw global society. we're back again next week. see you then. ♪ [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] announcer: opportunity. prosperity. optimism.
- [female voice over]: this program is made possible in part by the town of marion, home of the wayne henderson school of appalachian arts, celebrating 21 years as a certified virginia main street community. the hioricener frans marion hel and the speak easy restaurant and lounge, providing accommodations and casual fine dining. in downtown marion, virginia. the bank of marion. technology powered, service driven. wbrf 98.1 fm. bryant label, a proud supporter of our region's musical heritage. ("cherokee shuffle" by gerald anderson) ♪