Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rising illegal pesticide imports increase public health dangers

Rising illegal pesticide imports increase public health dangers

Rising illegal pesticide imports increase public health dangers

Agriculture officials and pesticides experts have expressed growing concern after

a study showed the number of illegally imported pesticides has nearly doubled since

2000.

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."

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