Farmers urged to rethink chemical use

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A farmer sprays pesticide as he walks through his field. Experts on Monday request farmers to rethink the use of chemicals, particularly the mixing of them. Heng Chivoan

Experts on Monday requested farmers to rethink the use of chemicals, particularly the mixing of them, a practice causing serious impacts on the health of both people and animals, and harming the natural environment.

The issue was discussed at a workshop run by international development NGO Gret on the effects of chemicals on crops and the environment.

The workshop was attended by 20 members of civil society organisations and universities that study agriculture.

Phat Chanvorleak, a researcher and professor at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia, said her research in Kampong Chhnang’s Chhnok Tru commune late last year had shown that chemical fertilisers used in agriculture were present in the soil, the waters of the Tonle Sap lake and in many species of fish.

She said it remained unclear how many people continue to use government-prohibited chemicals.

“We are worried because the chemicals used on crops permeate the soil and stay there for many years."

“When briefly exposed to such chemicals, the effects include vomiting, diarrhoea and respiratory and skin diseases. Longer exposure can cause cancer and be fatal. It can also affect children’s intellectual development."

“But most people don’t pay much attention to this, so farmers should turn to using natural fertilisers,” she said.

Pok Panha, a professor and researcher at the University of Battambang, said that in addition to their use, farmers mixing chemicals without the proper knowledge caused further alarm.

“Farmers have synthesised their own chemicals without using proper techniques, which is very risky. Furthermore, they like to use highly toxic chemicals such as potent pesticides,” he said.

The Census of Agriculture in Cambodia 2013 reported that 710,845 households used pesticides and 1,508,242 used inorganic fertiliser.

A report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said that in 2016 Cambodia imported chemicals worth $38 million.

Eve Bureau-Point, of France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, said the centre’s research showed farmers were increasingly using chemicals.

She expressed concern that if no restrictions were put in place and enforced, farmers would continue to use large quantities of chemicals, affecting people, animals and the environment.

Nhel Pheap, a representative of the Takeo provincial farmers network, told The Post on Monday that many farmers now used chemicals, including members of his association.

He said their use was down to a lack of publicity and a subsequent lack of understanding as to their long-term impacts as they provide immediate benefits.

“Their use is very dangerous, but we don’t know what would make farmers stop using chemicals. They are imported in volume from neighbouring countries, and the vendors don’t explain fully what the farmers are buying."

“We want the government to put measures in place to stop the use of chemicals and encourage farmers to use natural alternatives.”