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Overuse of pesticides ringing alarm bells

DSC04149“Whenever there is a mass spraying of pesticides, we all close up our houses tight because their unpleasant odors spread everywhere. Farmers here use a lot of pesticides on their crops, ranging from rice, vegetables to fruits. On average, herbicides are sprayed once or twice per crop season; insecticides are applied 3 or 4 times. Some households even spray pesticides more than that”, shared a farmer in Nam Dinh about the use of pesticides/herbicides in her village during a recent research project conducted by SRD. The research which entailed in-depth interviews with local governmental officials, group discussions, and Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) questionnaire found that there is a rampant overuse of pesticides in rural Vietnam and in the three representative provinces where the research was conducted.

With the goal of better understanding the knowledge, attitudes and practices of farmers in using highly hazardous pesticides, in particular chlorpyrifos and paraquat, SRD teamed up with the Research Centre for Rural Development (RCRD) and the Centre for Gender, Family and Environment in Development (CGFED) to conduct a research project entitled “Knowledge, behavior, and attitude towards the use of chlorpyrifos and paraquat and their impacts on human health”, which was conducted between April and June, 2014. Research sites include Phu Tho, Nam Dinh and An Giang provinces which represent 3 different agricultural eco-regions (northern mountainous area, Red River delta and Mekong delta). The research also sought to define the relationship between the knowledge, attitudes and practice of farmers and how it affects the use of pesticides as well as to examine the effects of paraquat and chlorpyrifos on users’ health and the environment. In each of the three provinces approximately 100 farmers answered the KAP survey, 3 focus groups were conducted and approximately 5 in-depth interviews were conducted with local authorities and pesticide retailers. This data is currently being analyzed and will be drafted into a full report for Vietnamese authorities, international partners who are part of the Pesticide Action Network and baseline information for future interventions in the study communities. 

Interviews with farmers in Phu Tho and Nam Dinh have showed that farmers are significantly relying on pesticides to protect their crops from pests and diseases, and while farmers are aware of the toxicity of these chemicals they have little training or knowledge on how to minimize these risks through the use of protective equipment and best practices. Farmers, when asked about they use highly hazardous pesticides so extensively often communicated feelings similar to this comment provided by a farmer in Phu Tho, “We know that they [pesticides] are highly toxic, but we have no choice because if we don’t use them we would suffer crop losses and have no food to put on the table.” Sadly, many famers that also participated in the study shared that many community members, young and old, have had cancers due to long term exposure to the pesticides they use. Despite that, universally farmers continue to spray pesticides on their fields regularly. 

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Pesticide bags/bottles are left on rice fields

The excessive use of pesticides in rural Vietnam has been become increasingly alarming. Paraquat, a highly toxic herbicide that is banned in much of the developed world, has surged in use in Vietnam in the past 10 years. In 2009, only 14 Vietnamese companies and 10 foreign companies produced and distributed Paraquat in Vietnam. In 2012, that number had soared to 39 companies selling Paraquat under 41 trade names.

While many Vietnamese farmers consider pesticides to be essential tools in avoiding crop failures and securing their income, the overwhelmingly negative health and environmental impacts also reflect the real cost of pesticides. The overuse of pesticides, especially highly hazardous chemicals such as paraquat and chlorpyrifos, is threatening the environment (through contaminating soil, air and water) and the life of plants and animals, including humans. Poor oversight coupled with lack of farmers’ knowledge of best practices in plant production, have caused the increasing dependence on chemical pesticides. Therefore, a study on the impacts of paraquat and chlorpyrifos as well as the factors affecting farmers’ behaviors and practices in using pesticides is critical to advocacy efforts for limiting and ultimately banning these highly hazardous pesticides in Vietnam. Additionally, it is important to promote the implementation of sustainable agricultural practices and the use of plant varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases in order to reduce the dependence of farmers on chemical pesticides. As a country with about 70 percent of the population living in rural areas and 48 percent depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, Vietnam must prioritize the promotion of chemical free agriculture as part of its sustainable development.

- SRD -

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