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Pesticide answers

The Editor,

I read with interest the article about "Good Insects as Alternative to Chemicals"

(Post, May 17-30). Thanks to your publication for drawing attention to this rapidly

growing problem in Cambodian agriculture.

Most Cambodian consumers are unaware that the cabbage leaf and salad leaf they are

consuming (often raw) has been sprayed every two or three days and that this can

cause ulcers, nerve disorders, cancer, impotence etc. Neither the Ministry of Health,

nor the Ministry of Environment has done much so far to monitor the extent of the

hazard or raise public awareness about it. I hope your publication will continue

to pursue this topic and educate the policy workers and general public.

Through your editorial column I'd like to raise some questions about the current

trade practices, proposed law re: agricultural materials and the pesticide aid from

Japan. As mentioned in the article, most of the farmers in Cambodia use 'Folidol'

(or methyl parathion sold under other brand names) or other 'Extremely or Highly

Hazardous Chemicals' (classified as 1A, 1B Category by the World Health Organization).

This is dangerous for the health of farmers, hazardous for the fish, frogs and crabs

in the ponds, lakes and streams (which provide two thirds of protien, specially for

poor families) and can cause major health problems for the sellers of pesticide and

consumers of the sprayed fruits, vegetables etc.

Use of these pesticides have been banned or severely restricted in most 'developed'

(i.e. rich) nations of the world. Private companies from these countries (Germany,

Japan, Switzerland, UK, USA etc.) however keep on manufacturing these FOR EXPORT

ONLY in their own countries, or through subsidiaries based in 'developing' countries

like Thailand, Vietnam etc. Is this ethical? Will the manufactures of Folidol - Bayer

of Germany - like to explain why they still manufacture and sell it in 100 ml or

other small packages when they know that methyl parathion is not supposed to be used

by farmers (that's the implication of WHO Class 1A and 1B) and why the cans don't

have colour code necessary by international regulations?

Would the Government representatives of these countries like to explain that despite

such violations, how some of these MNCs remain the major suppliers and therefore

beneficiary of Overseas Development Assistance money? Inter-governmental agencies

like the FAO and WHO also need to explain why they take so much trouble to develop

guidelines and yet make so little effort to monitor such violations and negligences.

Copies of the draft laws for regulating agricultural materials referred to by the

Director of Agronomy, were distrubuted recently in a seminar at the Department of

Agronomy. In it, it was not clear anywhere that 45 types of pesticides are going

to be banned. In fact ,the under secretary of state from Ministry of Agriculture

stated emphatically that the Royal Government has no intention to ban any pesticide.

Since we have been campaigning for the last two years to ban the sale of Class 1A,

1B pesticides and this request was endorsed by His Royal Higness King Norodom Sihanouk,

we are very interested in this issue and it would be good to have a clear statement

from a senior official in the MOAFF on this issue.

One major shortcoming of the draft law is it does not define clearly the right to

compensation farmers or consumers who may suffer from improper packaging, misleading

or inadequate information, or adulterated contents. A few government officials in

a few towns will never be able to impose restrictions etc. without citizen cooperation.

The laws should be clear and anybody who sees violation or suffers from it should

have the right to seek redress in a court of law, then only a private company will

be careful. We hope the government will pass other laws to prevent pollution of water

sources by pesticides and strengthen monitoring systems of pesticide residues in

food and off all pesticides poisoning and death cases in the country.

The comment of the JICA techincal expert about Pecticide Aid from Japan is somewhat

unfair towards the Cambodian Government. The Japanese Government had offered aid-in-kind

and had asked the RGC to choose from a shopping list, rather than asking them what

Cambodia really needs. Under this grant aid scheme, pesticides are purchased with

Japanese taxpayers money at a high price in Japan and are sold here at one-eighth

or one-tenth of the price, making Japanese manufacturers the primary beneficiaries

of this type of aid.

The statement that there has been no problem in Japan is misleading. There are several

published papers by Japanese experts on pest resurgence and other problems related

to use of 'Diazinon' for example. We should also keep in mind that in Japan nobody

eats fish, crab, shrimp and frogs from rice field (there are hardly any left) or

drinks water from village pond. We think an agency with the financial resources and

technical capacity of JICA can help much more by working with MOAFF to work on the

real problems (e.g. soil erosion, foods and droughts, poor seed quality) related

to agricultural productivity in Cambodia. Loss due to pest is a lesser problem and

not the root problem but only a symptom of poor crop management.

- Ardhendu S. Chatterjee,

on behalf of the Environment Sector and Working Group, CCC/NGO Forum.



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