Agriculture officials and pesticides experts have expressed growing concern after
a study showed the number of illegally imported pesticides has nearly doubled since
They warned that the rapid increase in pesticides used by Cambodian farmers meant
new ways were needed to reduce the damage done to both human health and the environment.
"Chemical agriculture is attacking Cambodia," said Dr Yang Saing Koma,
executive director at the Centre d'Étude et de Développement Agricole
Cambodgien (CEDAC). "Cambodian farmers think using pesticides is both modern
and easier, so they are less concerned about the dangers."
Dr Koma warned the issue would become even more serious if measures were not taken
to reduce pesticide use. CEDAC's study, which was carried out earlier this year,
found the number of trademark pesticides sold in the country's markets had jumped
to around 400, representing 105 types of poison. In 2000 there were 241 brands covering
78 different types.
Lang Seng Horng, a trainer with CEDAC, said pesticide use had decreased only in those
areas where his organization provided training. Overall, he said, pesticide use has
increased throughout Cambodia.
"Farmers believe in pesticides," said Horng. "They have easy access
to them and get their knowledge from each other. We try to help them understand the
impact of pesticides and how to find substitutes."
Horng said his experiences showed him that farmers were generally unaware of the
side effects of pesticides because they lacked proper information.
Weak law enforcement has resulted in the illegal importing of around 90 percent of
pesticides, despite a government sub-decree issued in 1998 that banned the use and
sale of Class 1a and 1b pesticides, which are classified as "extremely hazardous
to human health".
Chea Chan Veasna, head of thebureau of agricultural material standards at the Ministry
of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), said only seven companies representing
52 types of pesticides had registered with the ministry.
"These insecticides are restricted for Cambodian farmers and importers, and
can only be used by ministry pesticide experts," he said. "It is very dangerous
for our farmers to spray them on vegetables."
He said MAFF would issue another circular at the end of July to cope with the problem.
The circular would demand that businessmen dealing in pesticides register both their
commercial licenses and the types of pesticides they sell. All labels on pesticide
containers would need to be in Khmer so farmers would know how to use them.
Pesticides are easily available in the country's numerous markets. At Phnom Penh's
Chhbar Ampoe market, 51-year-old Long Huor said she gets her stock from smugglers.
Although she is not qualified to sell the chemicals, her shop contains several hundred
varieties, most from Vietnam and Thailand. She cannot read the labels, and has gleaned
her knowledge of how they should be used from farmers over the past 20 years.
She said most farmers wanted 'strong smelling' insecticides, which are generally
cheaper and more effective. She added that many used herbicide to kill grass rather
than human labor, which is more expensive.
Yet the problems of pesticides don't stop at the farm gate, said Dr Koma. The poisons
remain on the plants for up to two weeks, by which time many will have been eaten
by the general public.
Most Cambodians take that chance, since there is no way to tell which fruits or vegetables
are contaminated. There are no official statistics on the numbers of people afflicted.
Luy Rasmei, a 27-year-old Phnom Penh resident, said her family was poisoned three
years ago. She decided then she would no longer buy market produce.
"Now we grow our own vegetables," she said, "because some of the market
vegetables are still tainted with pesticides."