Cambodian rice farmers are exposed in the dry season to highly hazardous pesticides due to a lack of protective measures and equipment and many show symptoms of toxic poisoning by pesticides, a new report found.
The report by the Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific was released Monday and studied pesticide use in eight Asian countries.
Its research on Cambodia, conducted by the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, found that among 100 farmers in Prey Veng province’s Prek Krabao commune 95 percent used pesticides, while 75 percent did not know how to properly apply pesticides.
Most farmers had experienced symptoms of acute toxic poisoning while working with pesticides, and 90 percent reported dizziness, 87 percent headaches, 70 percent blurred vision and 52 percent experienced hand tremors.
About 30 percent of all farmers did not wear any protection while spraying pesticides and others only wore gloves and facemasks, while 52 percent did not wash their hands after spraying pesticides, CEDAC found.
Dangerous chemicals in pesticides commonly found in Cambodia were cypermethrin, permethrin, cholfluazuron and monocrotophos, the report said, adding these chemicals can lead to skin disorders, neurological effects, and in the long term, to cancer, reproductive problems and birth defects.
“Exposure to these pesticides puts communities at high risk of developing severe permanent health problems,” said Bella Whittle of PANAP in a statement.
Khorn Sdok, CEDAC project officer for pesticide monitoring, said the findings were representative for pesticide use among dry season farmers, who number around 175,000 families living in parts of Prey Veng, Svay Rieng, Takeo, Kompong Thom and Kompong Cham province.
Families there were at risk, he said, adding, “The majority of these farmers face low level poisoning.”
Mr Sdok explained these farmers were using 2 to 3 liters of heavy pesticide per hectare several times per week in order to protect their paddy from insects, which are abundant in the dry season.
Most farmers, he said, were unaware of the dangers of pesticide use, while government enforcement of regulations on illegal pesticides was lax and 95 percent of all pesticides for sale had labels in foreign languages.
“We have to educate farmers about alternative solutions [for pest control] and the health impacts,” he said, adding, “We have to enforce present regulations… [and] there is now no law on dangerous chemicals.”
Preab Visarto, acting director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s department of plant protection, acknowledged many dry season farmers were unaware of the dangers of using pesticides, but he questioned the research as it was based on interviews and did not include testing of respondents’ physiology.
“The pesticide problem in agriculture in Cambodia is not as serious as the released data suggests,” he said.
Mr Visarto said “improper use of pesticide” occurred during dry season farming, adding, “It’s a bit difficult to change their habits. However, we try our best to change it.”
“Enforcement of illegal pesticide regulations is still limited and chemicals are available… [but] in the future we will punish or confiscate these pesticides,” he said.