Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - "Good" insects seen as alternative to chemicals

"Good" insects seen as alternative to chemicals

"Good" insects seen as alternative to chemicals

Tonle Bati, Kandal - A farmer wearing a white T-shirt with an insect track design

running down the back explains to his neighbors how to recognize good from bad bugs

in their rice fields.

"Good insects will help the farmer," says Chum Choun, 56. "They will

eat the bad ones. In fact, all the insects are useful. If the pests were not here

the good insects would not be able to survive because they would have no pests to

eat."

In Tonle Bati, Choun has taken part in the farmer field school since its beginning

four months ago. It is part of an integrated pest management (IPM) program supported

by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

To try to regulate pesticide use among farmers, the FAO trained 35 employees from

the department of agronomy in five different provinces.

The program involves staff visiting farmers one day each week to work with them in

the fields to tell them about good insects - like the spider which eats the brown

plant hopper.

Choun - who's been a farmer for more than 30 years - explained to his neighbor, who

did not attend the school, the new things he discovered.

"Before, I saw the insects but I never thought that some of them could have

been useful.

"Now, I will be able to save money as I do not need pesticide," he said.

The IPM program was designed as an answer the problem of widespread pesticide use.

According to a recent Cambodia-IRRI- Australia (CIAP) survey, about 80 percent of

farmers are using pesticides in various ways.

In Kompong Cham province, farmers sprayed pesticide on dry fish to stop them attracting

flies.

"For vegetables, there is sharp competition with the products coming from Vietnam

and Thailand. The cabbages and the cucumbers have to look healthy and 75 percent

of the product are being sprayed," said Yech Polo from the Department of Agronomy.

Cambodia does not have any regulations on the import of agricultural material and

all kinds of pesticides are freely imported from Vietnam and Thailand.

Chourn used to spray pesticide in his fields as soon as he saw the first insect among

his rice.

"When I sprayed, all the insects were killed but I used to have stomach aches

and I was not able to sleep well," he said.

Choun sprayed Folidol which is registered by the World Health Organization (WHO)

as class Ia - an extremely hazardous product.

In Cambodia Folidol is the most common pesticide available, costing about 2,100 riel

for one hundred milliliters.

'"There are more than 50 kinds of pesticide available on the market. More than

20 are listed as dangerous by the WHO," said Pen Vuth, chief of plant protection

at the Agronomy Department.

The products' labels are not written in Khmer and the farmers do not know how to

use them properly.

They often increase the dose according to the results of the first spray and according

to how much money they have.

One liter of pesticide is usually enough to spray one hectare, but it is not rare

for the farmers to use up to four liters per hectare.

"There is lot of fake brands of pesticide on the Cambodian market," adds

Dr Gary Jahn, from CIAP project.

"Farmers spray two or three times before they get a result. When finally there

is an efficient pesticide, they keep the same habit and the danger is multiplied."

A class Ia pesticide can penetrate the skin, enter the blood and affect the nervous

system, and farmers do not used any protection. During a CIAP survey, many said they

used the same bucket in which they brought water from the well to prepare their pesticides.

Toxicity is increased when farmers spray two different kinds of pesticide simultaneously.

"It can kill a person," says Jahn. "After breathing one type, the

farmer breaths another type and his body cannot overcome both of them."

According to CIAP, most farmers spray pesticide during the dry season.

The farmers who produce dry season rice are more wealthy and have the money to pay

for irrigation and pesticides. For them, it is like an investment and they are afraid

to lose their high yields.

For example, in Svay Rieng, every farmer used pesticides during the dry season. "It

may be because of the proximity with the Vietnamese border," said Jahn. "It's

very easy for them to get the products."

"There are no controls at the border and we do not have any laws to stop importation,"

said Pen Vuth.

The department of agronomy submitted a sub-decree to the Council of Ministers to

regulate the importation pesticide more than a year ago.

It has still not yet been adopted. Meanwhile, the department is drafting a full law

regulating agricultural materials.

"The law should be finished at the end of 1996 but we do not expect it to be

implemented before 1997," said It Nody, the director of the Department of Agronomy.

The law will regulate the importation of pesticides. All companies wanting to import

such products will have to ask for an authorization from a board formed within the

Ministry of Agriculture.

According to the draft, 45 types of pesticides are going to be banned from use.

Meanwhile, pressure is increasing from chemical companies which are lobbying directly

with the Government for permission to sell their products.

Jahn said the policy of integrated pest management and crop protection had to be

coherent.

In 1992, Japan, supported the department of agronomy, donated 55,000 tons of class

II pesticide - moderately hazardous according to the WHO. This had already been distributed

to various provinces.

Yuto Hara from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, who is an agronomist attached

to the department of agronomy, said the pesticides had been offered at the Government's

request.

"If they are used correctly, there will be no problem. We are using them in

Japan and do not have any problem," he said.

But Jahn says: "Here, the pesticides are useless."

"The pesticide used in intensive agriculture, like in Japan or United States,

can have an impact and increase the yield. But here the amount of crop saved from

insects does not increase the yields."

"Pesticides are a waste of time and of money."

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