Western governments contribute to Cambodia’s pesticide problem

Hazardous pesticides, many supplied by the West, continue to threaten the health of Cambodian users according to the UK based environmental group the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), in their latest report Death in Small Doses: Cambodia’s Pesticide Problems and Solutions.

Pesticides smuggled from neighbouring Vietnam and Thailand are supplied to often uneducated and illiterate Cambodian farmers – who constituted 80% of the Cambodian working population in 1999. Frequently the pesticide’s active ingredient is exported from the West to Asian countries where the pesticide is formulated but safe practise is not guaranteed, says the report. The United Nations warned last February that 30% of pesticides marketed to developing countries pose health and environmental threats (see related story).

Pesticide use accounts for 14% of occupational injuries in developing countries and 10% of fatalities with Cambodia being one of the nations most at risk, according to the Pesticide Action Network – a worldwide organisation working to replace hazardous pesticides with ecological alternatives. The EJF report highlights the fact that much pesticide use in Cambodia is unnecessary and counter productive. Pesticide poisoning is resultant of inappropriate use by farmers who are not educated about which pesticides to use or when to use them; the mixing of pesticides is common practise creating dangerous chemical combinations. As much of the labelling is in Thai or Vietnamese, frequently Cambodian farmers cannot read the instructions. Some pests are actually becoming resistant to the pesticide practices, leading to greater use with less effect. Water supplies and ecosystems are also being polluted under current practices.

Under the Community Integrated Pest Management (IPM) scheme, managed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, training for Asian farmers has been given in the form of Farmer’s Field Schools (FFS) where they are taught about an ecological approach to agriculture. Although the EJF recognises the benefit of this scheme, they have made a list of 50 recommendations to several organisations, including the Cambodian government, Cambodian neighbours, the US and EU member states, and the agrochemical industry, to help improve the situation. These recommendations include:

  • that the Royal Government of Cambodia should accede to the Prior Informed Consent Procedure and officially identify banned chemicals;
  • that the agrochemical industry label pesticides clearly and comprehensively;
  • that Cambodian neighbours control their exports; and
  • that Western countries stop the ‘hypocrisy’ of supplying active ingredients to Asian countries, actively allowing pesticides banned in their countries to be formulated elsewhere.

Western policy on supplying chemicals to Asian countries is ethically questionable, Dr Mike Shanahan project coordinator at EJS told edie. He wants to see an increase of funding from the West to help move towards a sustainable method of farming for Cambodia.

Presently farmers are becoming trapped on the ‘pesticide treadmill’ where the pressures of supply and demand lead to dependence on pesticides, which are in effect hindering as much as helping the system. With 25 million cases of pesticide poisoning a year globally (see related story) the EJF wants international aid to help Cambodia quit its unsafe usage.

Story by Sorcha Clifford

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