As the world’s population grows, consumer demand, especially in the agricultural sector, is also increasing. Today, we are seeing more and more chemicals being added to our food to make it look good and last longer. However, there is rising concern among many people as to the threat to our health posed by these chemicals.
For the sake of the environment and our health, Cambodians are increasingly turning to organically grown vegetables. CEDAC, an organisation set up in 1997, has been working in 3,200 villages and 20 provinces to educate farmers about the importance of organic food in addition to teaching them how to grow food organically.
“Organic food is free from all kinds of synthetic chemical substances,” said Keam Makarady, program director of environment and health at CEDAC. “Any additional colorings or additives are not organic.”
“Chemical residues in food can have an immediate effect on humans,” he added. “People consuming chemically enhanced food may experience stomach aches, headaches and diarrhoea. In the long run, those residues can build up in tissue cells and cause various diseases,” said Keam Makarady. He added that overuse or abuse of pesticides does not only affect the food but may also harm the farmers.
According to Pean Sokha, publication director at CEDAC, the absence of chemical fertilisers and pesticides will help in dealing with many environmental issues. Organically grown food does not pollute the air, water or land. “When we use chemicals in our crops, they can flow into the river and linger in the air we breathe. This polluted water can kill fish and harm people. At the same time, soil becomes hardened, and the soil is no longer usable. On the other hand, food grown organically does not contain all of these dangerous chemicals and can help sustain a balanced ecology.”
A growing number of organic products are emerging on the shelves of various supermarkets as well as in some small family businesses. “Organic food is a good idea and it’s good for the people. However, they are still fairly pricey to some families,” said Tan Try, a communication for development specialist at UNICEF. “A polluted environment can cause many diseases.”
Pean Sokha said there are some difficulties in growing crops without chemicals. “It is a bit difficult to make compost fertiliser and natural pesticides. It takes quite some time. We can’t just go to supermarkets to buy them and use on plants. It takes patience. However, it is well worth it.” She added that farmers do not have to waste their money on buying pesticides or fertilisers sold in the markets. They can use what is available locally or around their house, such as animal waste or some kinds of tree barks. In this way, farmers can not only help the environment but also reduce their expenses.
While demand for organic food is rising, the name “organic” is not as closely regulated in Cambodia as it is in other countries. “Most food on the market is not monitored properly or consistently yet,” said Keam Makarady. “Occasionally, we see some authorities come and check on them, but it’s still limited.”
While organic food is just getting its start in Cambodia, it is clearly the way of the future for food.