Mr. C.J. Hare's letter (Phnom Penh Post Feb. 26 - Mar. 11) berating the Post's article
on Japan's pesticide 'aid' package to Cambodia (Phnom Penh Post Jan. 15 - 28) reveals
the extent to which the chemical industry will go in the defence of its right to
profit. Mr. Hare's letter is largely composed of obfuscation, misinformation and
Mr. Hare refers to the approach to integrated pest control, known as Integrated Pest
Management (IPM), in an attempt to downplay concern about the 30 tons of chemicals
with which Cambodian farmers will be spraying their fields. Mr. Hare's advocation
of future training of Cambodian farmers is irrelevant to the issue at hand. It must
be frankly admitted that the chemicals have already been dumped in Cambodia for application
by farmers untrained in IPM and uninformed about the health, livelihood and ecological
impacts of using chemicals.
Mr. Hare rejects concern regarding diazinon (one of the chemicals in the pesticide
package) by citing bird toxicity tests in the United States. His argument that dryland
bird toxicity tests imply diazinon poses no dangers to birds and animals in Cambodian
ecosystems demonstrates either blatant misinformation or complete ignorance of the
ecological reality of Cambodian flood plains. Mr. Hare should consult the Handbook
of Pesticides Regulated in the United States which warns, "Keep diazinon out
of streams, lakes, ponds, tidal marshes, and estuaries. Do not use it near or in
water that will be used for any purposes (emphasis in book) by humans or livestock.
Shrimp and crab will be killed at application rates recommended on most labels."
In a country where more than half the population depend on fish, crabs, shrimp and
snails from rivers and lakes as the main source of dietary protein and supplemental
income, and where humans and draught animals are in daily physical contact with water,
Mr. Hare's defence of diazinon is astonishingly callous.
Further evidence of Mr. Hare's distortion of information is illustrated by his claim
that farmers can "make an application of insecticide at the beginning of the
build-up [of insect pests], using a lower rate of product and avoiding doing damage
to the beneficial insects and spidoro, which tend to build up somewhat later than
the insect pests on which they prey." Mr. Hare's claims are patently false.
Scientific research shows that applications of pesticides at an early stage of 'pest'
infestation will not selectively kill only members of the pest population, but all
insects-including the existing population of beneficial predator insects-and possibly
other small animals living in the paddies or surrounding areas.
'Pest'-predator population imbalances are initiated and/or exacerbated by pesticide
applications, leading to more serious pest infestations, greater crop losses, and
increasing 'need' for applications of more toxic chemical pesticides. The three main
reasons for this: 1) predator insects and small animals that are naturally occurring
controls of crop 'pests' are decimated by chemical pesticides, with a correlated
reduction in the predation and control of pest populations by these beneficial animals;
2) the fecundity (rate of reproduction) of 'pest' insects is usually much greater
than the fecundity of the natural predators. As a result, and following the broad
spectrum kill of rice paddy animals, pest populations explode while the numbers of
predators species expand at a slower rate and; 3) 'pest' insects that survive chemical
pesticide applications sometime do so because they posses genetic traits that make
them resistant to the pesticide. The subsequent generations of pest insects then
develop resistance to the chemical pesticide, forcing the application of other, often
more toxic, chemical pesticides by farmers.
These issues have been documented in relation to the Brown Planthopper outbreaks
in Thailand and elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region. According to the International
Rice Research Institute's (IRRI) Annual Report, 1979, IRRI scientists discovered
that some insecticides, including fenitrothion and diazinon (both part of Japan's
'aid' package), actually increased brown planthop-per populations by disrupting natural
predator populations. It is simply astounding that Mr. Hare, as well as Mr. Chan
Tong Yves (agronomist with the Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture) who was quoted
by Mr. Hare as dismissing the 30 tons of chemicals as "one drop of water in
the glass", are unaware of crucially important information available to the
general public for more than a decade.
Contrary to Mr. Hare's simplistic assurances that chemical pesticides will result
in a 'good crop', effective long-term pest control requires a comprehensive balance
between an agro-ecosystem's various, site specific components-both living (crop,
pests, their natural enemies, soil flora and fauna) and non-living (soil characteristics,
flooding patterns, weather, etc.).
Mr. Hare's focus on pest control by chemical inputs to produce a 'good crop' is typical
of outsiders with little or no knowledge of means of livelihood issues relevant to
farmers, but who nonetheless define those issues in the dim light of their own perceptions
about what they think Cambodian farmers ought to be doing.
As Mr. Hare's letter clearly illustrates, multinational chemical corporations like
Ciba Geigy, as well as the governments of Japan and Cambodia, refuse to recognize
that the Cambodian people have the right to concise and reliable information about
'development' like the Japanese ODA chemicals. Instead, Mr. Hare derides legitimate
public concerns about the negative impacts of chemical pesticides on public health,
people's means of livelihood, and the natural environment, as 'excessive emotion'
Ensuring the future food security of the Cambodian people requires ecologically sustainable
agricultural methods, not the adoption of destructive chemical intensive crop production.
The knowledge of Cambodia's farmers will be the basis for ensuring sustainable food
security. Towards this end, the specious arguments of traveling salesmen, portraying
themselves as agriculture experts, looking to earn their corporations a quick buck
at the expense of the Cambodian farmers should be ignored.