Pech Savoeun knew it was pesticides that were making him sick.
“When I was in the field I felt dizzy and then I couldn’t walk,” he told workers from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. “When I returned home I vomited.”
But Pech Savoeun thought there was no other choice.
“I have to use pesticides. There is no other alternative. I am a farmer,” he said.
That sort of thinking needs to change, the London-based NGO Environmental Justice Foundation said in a report released Wednesday. The report, “Death in Small Doses,” contains little original research and mainly builds on the findings of the FAO and the pioneering local NGO CEDAC on the dangers of pesticide overuse.
But it puts the problem within a global context, as developing countries become dumping grounds for chemicals that have been banned in the developed world but are still being produced by Western companies. It also contains recommendations for government, donors and the chemical industry.
About two-thirds of Cambodian farmers use pesticides, and pesticide imports doubled between 1989 and 1999, the report states. In most provinces, the most commonly used pesticides are rated highly or extremely hazardous by the World Health Organization. They are banned by most developed countries and, since 1998, by Cambodia.
All of the pesticides are manufactured by foreign countries and pass through Cambodia’s permeable borders, the report states. As a result, most instructions on the bottles are printed in languages Cambodian farmers cannot understand. Often they are unaware they are supposed to wear protective gear, or cannot afford it.
Farmers are also unaware they can be harmed merely by touching or inhaling insecticides, surveys have found. A 2000 survey by the FAO found 88 percent of pesticide-using farmers reported some symptoms of poisoning.
Many of the pesticides are toxic to wildlife and sea life as well, the report finds. They are affected when sprayed fields become flooded by river water or runoff flows into lakes or rivers.
The report cites studies finding pesticides are usually not needed at all to grow paddy rice, and may be considerably reduced in vegetable farming without affecting production levels. It recommends education of farmers on alternative pest control.
One traditional method, so-called rice-fish culture, involves raising fish on flooded rice fields. The fish eat pests as well as providing a source of protein.
A full copy of the report is available on the Internet at www. ejfoundation.org.