Cambodian farmers are mixing pesticides to increase their potency in ways that are known to be hazardous, but increased knowledge of the hazards presented by pesticides does not appear to curb their use, a new study shows.
The study, published last week by the journal Science of the Total Environment, did find that pesticide use decreased substantially when women were in charge of pest management, even though these women have less access to training on pesticide use than their male peers.
The use of pesticides decreases by 42 percent when women are in charge, according to the study, and about 38 percent of farm managers are female in Cambodia and Laos.
But Touch Van, a researcher with the department of agronomy and soil science at the University of New England in Australia, who was not involved in the study, said that household obligations often prevented women from receiving training.
He said that most agriculture NGOs “don’t have a strategy plan . . . to encourage more women to attend the training.” This needed to be changed, he said.
“Men attend the training, but women go to the market to buy pesticides. Where do women receive information from? Mostly from traders who sell the pesticides,” he said.
And according to the report, “pesticide use was 251% higher when the farmer sought advice from pesticide shopkeepers”, but “45% lower when the farmer sought advice from friends or neighbors”.
The study also found that more knowledge about the hazards of pesticides is not tied to a decrease in use.
Strikingly, “82% of the applicators in Cambodia said that when spraying pesticides they were worried about getting cancer”, but continued using pesticides anyway.
What did decrease the pesticide use, the researchers said, was knowledge about arthropods. They found that the more farmers knew about the insects, the fewer pesticides were used.
Ministry of Health spokesman Ly Sovann said his ministry was working together with the Ministry of Agriculture to spread knowledge about varied health risks but directed further questions to the Ministry of Agriculture. Lor Raksmey, Agriculture Ministry spokesman, did not reply to a request for comment as of press time.
Van pointed out that although the Ministry of Agriculture should in theory be responsible for capacity building, in practice the duty has fallen to NGOs.
“Unless they receive funding, they don’t have the capacity to do so.”