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Farmers urged to go green

A farmer sprays pesticide as he walks through his field last year. Officials from the Agriculture Ministry called on farmers to use biological control agents instead of conventional pesticides
A farmer sprays pesticide as he walks through his field last year. Officials from the Agriculture Ministry called on farmers to use biological control agents instead of conventional pesticides. Heng Chivoan

Farmers urged to go green

Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture have called on farmers to cease using chemical pesticides and adopt environmentally friendly methods in an effort to increase yields and reduce damage to produce.

At an agriculture workshop on biological control agents hosted yesterday by the Ministry of Agriculture, USAID and German development agency GIZ, farmers were introduced to Trichoderma, a quickly multiplying breed of fungus found in all types of soil and which acts as a guard against insects and toxins.

The Trichoderma fungus is widely used in agricultural industries as a natural alternative to chemical pesticides.

Kean Sophea, deputy director of the Department of Horticulture and Subsidiary Crops, said farmers are using more chemical pesticides and chemical fertilisers nowadays, which is damaging their soil and causing plants and crops to be vulnerable to disease and insects.

“[Tricoderma] goes to kill bad fungi by attacking enemy parasites,” Sophea said.

“Tricoderma helps to reduce the use of chemical pesticides, increase crops and it is environment-friendly as well as economical for farmers,” he added.

According to Sophea, 100 farmers in five provinces have been participating in a trial of the fungi as an alternative to chemicals over the past three years. The results, he says, have been overwhelmingly positive, with the fungi killing the vast majority of pests and bad bacteria that once destroyed the roots of the plants.

However, the government official admitted that the new form of bio-control was not an overall panacea.

“It is more like a good prevention, not the cure,” he said during yesterday’s workshop.

Keam Makarady, director of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture’s (CEDAC) environment and health program said the trial of the Trichoderma bio-control method was turning up good results.

“Farmers spend less on their farming and get more and better quality crop,” Makarady said.

One kilogram of Trichoderma costs about $8 and can treat more than 1,000 litres of water. Farmers can then use the water to spray all varieties of crop, including rice, corn, fruits and vegetables.

Despite efforts to introduce a greener alternative, chemical pesticides remain a more common option among Cambodia’s farmers.

The Kingdom imported more than 865,000 tonnes of agricultural fertiliser and close to 14,900 tonnes of agricultural pesticide in 2013, according data from the Ministry of Agriculture.

Nem Koun, a rice farmer from Battambang province, said he had spent about $50 on chemical pesticides to cover just a single hectare of land in an effort to fight off the onset of insects after the
rainy season.

The situation got so dire, Koun said, that he was forced to spray his crop four times with chemical pesticides just to ensure the survival of his yearly harvest.

“If there are experts to show us how it works and how effective it is, farmers here will use it,” he said, referring to the Trichoderma biological control method.

Hem Em, a farmer with 7 hectares of pepper-growing land in Kampong Cham, said he had spent more than $300 on pesticides this season to ward off pests.

“If we do not use pesticide, we will not be able to harvest crops because the insects destroy the flower and our crops give no fruits,” he said.

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