​Vietnam losing control of excessive pesticide use

Farmers are abusing and overusing pesticides to maximize their farming productivity while ignoring the dangers these practices pose to consumers

A farmer sprays pesticide on his paddy field in the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The massive amount of pesticides being imported into Vietnam is sparking major concerns over the negative effects of such chemicals on agricultural products and consumer health.

Statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development show that the Southeast Asian country has spent more than US$660 million on pesticides in the first eight months of 2017, up 47 percent year-on-year.

According to the ministry, China is the primary exporter.

The increased purchase has a direct correlation to their application in agricultural activities across Vietnam – a trend that could put consumers in harm’s way.

Pham Van Banh, a farmer in Chau Thanh District in the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang, confirmed that local farmers have become more reliant on insecticides over the past few years.

To meet the rapidly growing demand for agricultural products, farmers are expanding their operations and increasing their output, thus leaving little time for conventional pest control methods.

Pesticides are considered the fastest way to protect plants from insects and disease, Banh elaborated.

During a typical 90-day farming season, insect repellant chemicals are used on seven to eight separate occasions at a cost of about VND8 million ($353.5) per hectare of filed per season, the farmer added.

“There are endless varieties to pesticide and other farming chemicals. Some are designed to protect from bugs and diseases while others help make produce appear fresher,” he said.

Knowing that the overuse of pesticides can be harmful for consumers, Bui Van Thanh, a farmer in the Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang, explained that he would risks heavy losses if he forewent such chemicals.

Thanh Hien, who another Soc Trang resident, was of the same opinion, sharing that he and his family do not consume vegetables farmed on their land.

According to Le Van Da, deputy head of the Plant Protection Department in Kien Giang Province, many farmers have neglected regulations on pesticide limits.

Some people even create their own mixture from several types of products to maximize their farming productivity, a highly dangerous practice, Da continued.

A farmer sprays pesticide on a paddy field in Binh Chanh District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A farmer sprays pesticide on a paddy field in Binh Chanh District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Only warnings

Regarding penalties for the abuse of pesticides, authorities in most Mekong Delta provinces say the violators are only warned for their wrongdoing.

“We mainly remind them not to rely too much on chemicals. Our main goal is to change the farming habits of local residents step by step,” said Truong Thanh Binh, chairman of the People’s Committee in Dai Hai Commune, Soc Trang Province.

Meanwhile, Cao Xuan Dieu, chairman of Phu Huu Commune, in the southern province of An Giang, said that local authorities primarily seek to raise farmers’ awareness of the situation and have no intention to penalize anyone for their actions.

According to an expert from the agricultural ministry, farming products treated pesticides can be harmful to consumer health.

Local authorities should consider the abuse of pesticides as a serious crime and impose harsher punishments upon violators.

The central government should have a nationwide strategy aimed at prompting farmers across the country to follow regulations regarding chemical use in farming and contribute towards a cleaner agricultural industry.

New policies should be implemented to encourage the use of alternate and eco-friendly pest control measures such as organic fertilizer and biopesticides, said Nguyen Xuan Hong, former head of the Plant Protection Department under the Ministry Agriculture and Rural Development.

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