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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Anti Pesticide Attack Unfair

Anti Pesticide Attack Unfair

If it is the SOC Government's intention that farmers should produce only sufficient

rice for their own needs, then the sentiments expressed in the article "Japan's

Pesticide Package May Kill More Than Bugs" that appeared in the Jan. 15-28 issue

can go unchallenged, even though it contains a number of errors and untruths. But

if the intention is for increased production then the policies advocated in the article

will not do. Yields will not increase, at least in sufficient quantity to have any

effect on the increasing demand both internally as well as externally.

In this, as well as many similar articles, a certain mysticism is made to surround

the term IPM, as if it's a sacred preserve whose secrets are known only to a chosen

few. This is, of course rubbish, as even the "old-fashioned' members of the

much-maligned agrochemical industry also believe in and actively promote the use

of pesticides in an IPM system. IPM, which is the acronym for Integrated Pest Management,

can also be interpreted as standing for Intelligent Pest Management. It is commonsense

that a farmer should resort to using every tool available in his quest to not only

produce a good crop, but to protect it from the deleterious effects of weeds, insect

pests, diseases, rats and birds.

He would prepare his land and control available water in such ways as to reduce the

competition from weeds. However, this should be in a cost efficient way, and if it

is more beneficial to use a chemical he should be allowed to consider this alternative

weed management system.

We often hear that using chemical plant protection agents disturbs the ecological

balance. This happened a long time ago, as soon as man started planting crops in

a contiguous manner as opposed to harvesting wild plants. From then on, it has been

a question of getting the greatest benefit from managing a wide array of resources.

Insect pests generally attack crops in a systematic way, that is, historically, unless

some factor(s) change, attacks are basically predictable. If there is a change in

some factor, such as in Thailand a year or so ago when farmers were encouraged to

plant a new rice variety (Suphan 60), there can be dramatic changes in pest incidences.

Unfortunately, Suphan 60 did not have the inbuilt resistance to a pest called the

brown plant hopper (BPH) which more traditional varieties have, and as result the

BPH infestations flared-up and caused a lot of damage. By reverting to the older

varieties farmers have now solved this problem.

Knowing the incidence of pest occurrence in a crop allows the farmer a choice of

management systems. He can, on a regular basis, look for or scout for insects (and

disease symptoms for that matter), and based on a predetermined level of insects

(known as the Economic Threshold Level or ETL) decide whether to apply a treatment

or not. Alternatively, knowing there will be a build-up of insect pests approximately

so many days after the crop emerges, he can make an application of insecticide at

the beginning of the build-up, using a lower rate of product and avoiding doing damage

to the beneficial insects and spiders, which tend to build-up some what later than

the insect pests on which they prey.

This Strategic Insecticide Application Technique (SIAT) not only is easy for the

farmer to understand and follow, but it uses less product than when he waits to see

a certain number of insects (ETL) or more usually, when he can see damage.

In addition, it has been seen to consistently give a good return to the farmer on

the investment he has made, due to controlling small pest populations which escape

the FTL system.

What this is saying is that chemical pesticides, as well as resistant varieties,

beneficial insects, knowledge of the crop and its potential enemies, good cultural

practices and correct application techniques all have a place to play in IPM, and

a good farmer should have the right to employ them all, if he so needs, in his struggle

to produce a good crop.

Chan Tong Yves, the Agronomist with the SOC's Ministry of Agriculture (Min. of Ag.)

is correct when he is quoted as saying, the 30 tones of insecticide destined for

Cambodia under Japanese aid is "one drop of water in the glass" and will

only cover 50,000 hectares at most - a small percentage of Cambodia's 3 million total

hectares of crop land."

Instead of condemning this important and necessary input for increased rice production,

we should be looking for ways of increasing the quantity so that more farmers have

the chance to decide if they can benefit from it. However, efforts must be made to

not only ensure that the pesticides entering Cambodia are the proper ones for the

problems, and are extensively used in neighboring countries, but their distribution

and subsequent use must be supported by their suppliers who have the experience and

responsibility to provide proper training in their correct use and give all other

assistance that is associated with good Product Stewardship.

To correct one or two errors in the previous article, which generally appear in such

anti-pesticide attacks, either due to excessive emotion, ignorance or just plain

vindictiveness, the 30 tones of agro-chemicals will not cause the death of the windflowers,

as they are identified as being three long-established and widely used insecticides

and not herbicides. Incidentally, two herbicides which were to be included, are first

to be tested by the Min. of Ag., despite being used extensively in neighboring countries.

This proves that the SOC Min. Ag. is in control of the situation, and is not just

accepting aid for aid's sake.

Thai farmers are not in dept due to pesticides. The majority pay cash to the dealers

and do not get credit.

Used properly, pesticides need not harm the build-up of beneficial insects, and because

of beneficials, lower than usual rates of pesticides, applied at the proper time,

can be very effective.

Bird toxicity tests in the U.S. are carried out on the soil surface and are not relevant

to rice paddies, where the products are mainly submerged under water and hence not

picked-up by birds.

According to Regional Agro-Pesticide Index Vol. 1. 3rd Edition 1991, fenvalerate

is sold in Thailand under five different formulations, but for use in non-rice crops

such as cotton.

No, Cambodian farmers are not destined to end up "hooked on chemicals".

But they must be allowed to benefit from their correct and proper use if necessary.

IPM, or Intelligent Pest Management, must be encouraged and every factor, including

pesticides, contributing to it must be made available to the farmer.

It will require a lot of hard work to ensure that the proper training is given to

farmers and extension workers so that the real benefits of all the essential parts

of IPM can be realised. It will also require that those involved, whether from the

agricultural chemical industry, FAO, IRRI, NGO's, the Government and of course the

farmers work together to achieve the common objectives which are to increase the

agricultural productivity of the Cambodian nation in general and of the Cambodian

farmer in particular.

- C.J. Hare, Ciba Geigy



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