Farmers and consumers are being put at risk by dangerous chemicals imported from outside the country, critics say
Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
A Cambodian farmer holds up a bottle of agricultural chemicals imported from Thailand.
DANGEROUS pesticides pose serious health risks to farmers and consumers, say NGOs and agricultural officials who last week rallied for a national ban.
Cambodia spends nearly US$30 million on chemical sprays every year, many of which are illegal in the countries where they are manufactured, experts say.
Cheang Sovannrath, a project officer with the nongovernmental group Chemical Spray Reduction and Sustainable Agriculture, told the Post the campaign, which included a march through Phnom Penh, aims to educate consumers about the dangers of chemical sprays and encourage the government to stop importing them.
"I think this campaign can sound an alarm for consumers and authorities to restrict the import of chemical sprays," Cheang Sovannrath said.
The campaign is supported by the NGO Forum on Cambodia.
"I think if we don't start this kind of campaign now, we will face real danger in the future," said Keam Makarady, research project coordinator for the Cambodia Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC) .
"Ninety percent of chemical spray users have suffered adverse health effects, with at least 10 percent of these experiencing serious problems," he said.
Tat Bunchheoun, head of the Agriculture Department in Siem Reap, welcomed the campaign, saying it could reduce chemical spray use among local farmers.
"Our farmers generally think chemical sprays can make their crops grow well, but they are facing an increasing number of health problems," Tat Bunchheoun said.
CEDAC President Yang Saing Koma said chemical spraying became widespread during the economic reforms of the 1990s.
"We want farmers to grow their crops without chemicals because of their effects on the soil, as well as on the health of workers," he said.
Ith Sarun, head of the Agriculture Department in Takeo province, said the government is discouraging the use of all chemicals in agriculture, including in fertilisers.
"The chemicals have a direct and indirect effect on public health, as workers can inhale them and food sources, such as crabs and snails, can absorb them," Ith Sarun said.
Ros Nao, a farmer from Takeo province's Tram Kak district, said some farmers continue to use chemicals, despite their harmful effects, because most are ignorant of the dangers that they pose.
"I want to see this campaign being held every month because most farmers are not aware of the dangers of the chemicals," he said.
NGO Forum reported that a number of highly toxic pesticides are being widely used in Cambodia, including DDT, which is banned internationally through the Stockholm Convention.