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Pests

Pests

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

downright falsehood.

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'

and 'ignorance.'

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.

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