The use of dangerous pesticides, many of which have been dumped in Cambodia from
stocks in countries which banned their use, is creating a poisonous cocktail on
the country's farm land. But
Bou Saroeun has found a group of farmers
who have rejected artificial chemicals in favour of natural
Hem Savoeun says farmer, plants and animals live in symbiosis
Hem Savoeun carefully stirs a mixture of plants in a jar,
explaining as he works away that he is making a "botanical
Next to where he works, rows of healthy vegetables stand as
testimony to Savoeun's philosophy of organic farming on his land on the
outskirts of Takmau near Phnom Penh.
Savoeun is a veteran organic farmer.
He learned to grow vege-tables naturally from his father, who relied on compost
and plant mixtures for fertilizer and pest control.
"My father never used
chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and he never lost a crop," said
As he walked across his farm frogs and toads jumped out but he
avoids disturbing them, explaining that they preyed on insects which attacked
He said that organic farming was not just the use of
compost and a few home remedies for plant disease but was an entire system in
which the farmer, the plants and animals all live together in a symbiotic
While Savoeun's commitment to organic farming came from his
father, other farmers have made the change after disturbing experiences with
chemical fertilizers and pest control.
Sao Vuth, 40, from Kandal turned
to organic farming after he developed chronic health problems while using
chemicals - dizziness, headaches, skin problems and eye injuries made him look
"I used a lot of pesticides for 12 years," he said.
"Most of chemical pesticides that I used were very strong.
"Now I avoid
using pesticides and I try to use the compost with botanical
It is not only farmers who are changing their attitudes;
consumers are becoming concerned about the health implications of heavy
pesticide ingestion and consequent health problems.
Lang Seng Hourng,
pesticide project officer at the environmental NGO Centre d'Etude et de
Development Agricole Cambodgien (CEDAC) said their research showed consumers
were becoming more sophisticated about what they ate and how it was
He said even in rural areas people said they were becoming fearful
of the dangers of eating pesticides.
Luy Rasmey, an environment training
coordinator at the Culture and Environment Preservation Association (CEPA) said
that after her entire family became ill with symptoms that accorded with
pesticide ingestion her mother changed her shopping habits.
looking for perfect specimens on the fruit and vegetable stalls she now opted
for plants that had insects on them or insect damage, as this indicated they had
not been sprayed with dangerous chemicals.
Sao Vuth said that one of the
major problems with pesticide use was that farmers sprayed crops a day or two
before sending them to market, which meant there were still high concentrations
of chemicals on the fruits and vegetables when they were consumed.
there are indications that farmers' attitudes are changing.
survey of nearly a thousand farmers found that they were using high levels of
chemical pesticides but many were receptive to the idea of organic farming.
Nearly 70 percent said they liked the idea because it was cheaper than buying
chemicals and nearly 20 percent cited health reasons for considering adopting
natural farming methods.
Dr Young Sang Koma, Executive Director of CEDAC,
said 95 percent of farmers in the survey learned to handle agricultural
chemicals from their neighbors or pesticide traders.
However only eight
out of 77 pesticide traders surveyed said they could read the labels on the
pesticide containers. None of the instructions were in Khmer. Only one trader
had received any training on pesticide use.
All the pesticides were
imported mainly from Thailand and Vietnam and many of the pesticides on sale
were of a type banned in the country of origin, prompting speculation that
Cambodia had become a dumping ground for otherwise valueless stock.
also showed that it was the most dangerous pesticides that were the most
popular. The most common pesticides being sold were Mevinphos, Methylparathion,
Monocrotophos and Diclophos - all classified as extremely dangerous. Other
pesticides available included DDT and Chlordane, which accumulate in the food
chain and have hence been banned in most countries.
But even if accurate
handling instructions were given, farmers liked to increase the concentrations
in the belief that the stronger the brew the better.
Koma said farmers
perceived pesticides would not only control the pests but would also stimulate
He said most of the farmers thought pesticides were
only a danger if they entered the body orally. He said they did not realize they
could be breathed in or absorbed through the skin.
This ignorance has led
to tragedies. Som Soeu, head of Trapang Kok village in Kandal province, said a
melon grower painted pesticide onto his body as a mosquito repellent. The first
time it appeared to work but when he reapplied it he died.