Farmers are being urged to eschew pesticides and chemical fertilizers for their own health and to avoid
scaring off European buyers.
Agricultural experts and officials are urging farmers to stop using chemical pesticides and start growing organic, non-genetically modified produce for export to European markets.
While genetic modification helps to increase the productivity of crops and reduces the need for pesticides, consumers in the world market have expressed concern about the potential health risks associated with GMO (genetically-modified organism) produce.
“European countries are against the importation of GMO produce, and most of the African countries have refused GMO foods donated from the US,” Hean Vanhan, deputy director of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ agronomy department, told the Post on July 9.
Given overseas consumers’ increasing appetite for organic produce, the ministry has recommended that farmers start growing crops organically and discouraged them from growing GMO produce, Hean Vanhan said.
Chemical pesticides have also had a devastating impact on both the environment and public health in Cambodia.
“We need to grow high-yield crops for export to world markets, and our production has to be without chemicals,” commented Dr Yang Saing Koma, director of the Cambodia Center for Study and Development in Agriculture.
Oum Pisey, coordinator of bio-safety for the UN Environment Program, said that the natural ecology and biodiversity in Cambodia were being destroyed by prolonged use of dangerous chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
“Health problems associated with pesticides can develop over a long period of time and are passed onto consumers of chemically grown produce through pesticide residue in food,” Oum Pisey said. “If you love your life, stop eating crops grown with chemicals.”
Farmers who continue to use chemical pesticides can expect the substances to accumulate in their liver and elsewhere in the body, possibly leading to chronic health problems such as cancer, genetic damage, blood disorders and birth defects.
Chan Sothear, 35, a farmer in Mukampoul district, Kandal province, said that her father-in-law and husband have both been hospitalized after exposure to chemicals.
“My family stopped using chemical pesticides four years ago,” Sothear said. “Now we are happy to grow crops naturally.”
But Nouv Sydath, 57, an organic farmer in Chambak Meas village, admits that many buyers avoid his vegetables because they do not have the perfect appearance of the produce grown with chemicals.
“I’d rather live naturally then get wealthy using chemicals,” said Nouv Sydath.
Many farmers in Chambak Meas have continued using chemical pesticides and fertilisers, ignoring health warnings, Nouv Sydath said.
“I can’t stop using chemicals, even though I want to,” said Pol Soneath, 30, a farmer who spends $300 per year on chemical pesticides and fertilizers for use on his two hectares of land because the appearance of produce is important on the market.
“I know that my land and soil are degenerating from chemical fertilizers, and I am aware of the health risks,” Pol Soneath said. “I have experienced both numbness and asthma from the chemical sprays and I now wear a mask when applying chemicals.”
While many experts oppose the growth of GMO food in Cambodia, others say it has the potential to reduce farmer reliance on chemicals.
“GMO has no negative impact on people’s health, but chemicals do,” Phnom Penh health director Veng Thai told the Post on July 9.
Touch Visal Sok, rector for the University of Battambang, said that ensuring an adequate food supply for the world’s booming population should take priority over any health concerns associated with GMO food.
“The FAO and WHO have called on developing countries to produce GMO food to help alleviate food shortages but not to allow the growth of crops and feeding of animals with antibiotics,” Touch Visal Sok said. “We do not worry about GMO.”