Pesticide issue bugs farmer

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 February, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 1995, 12:00am

YOU must have seen grasshoppers and beetles in the countryside or at home. They are common insects that can be easily found in Hong Kong.

But they are also one of many pests that bring damage to crops and affect livelihood of many farmers in developing countries.

Pest damage is therefore an enemy that farmers have to combat in order to grow enough food for their families.

In the old days, farmers had their traditional pesticide to cope with pests. The methods employed were non-chemical and natural, such as crop rotation, planting more than one crop or using 'trap crops' to attract pests away from main crops.

These methods were effective in diversifying the potential threat that pest could bring to the whole yield.

However, under the influence of Western-style intensive agriculture, farmers have abandoned their traditional subsistence farming practice and shifted to growing single cash crops such as cotton, banana and tobacco for export.

This commodity agriculture poses a great demand on chemical fertilisers as well as pesticides. Ironically, despite its widespread use, pesticides have by no means ended problems they were supposed to solve. Instead they have caused many problems.

They are very expensive and hard to obtain for poor farmers. They can destroy useful organisms along with the pests and upset the ecosystem.

Pests can gradually build up resistance to chemicals so they become less effective. The use of chemical pesticides has created an unending battle against pests.

Nowadays, many of the pesticides exported to developing countries have been banned or restricted for health and environmental reasons in their original countries.

Pesticides pollute water and contaminate soil. Plantation workers and farmers growing cash crops are most likely to suffer from pesticide exposure.

Acute exposure can cause cancer or impair the human immune system.

It is estimated that occupational pesticide poisoning is presently affecting as many as three per cent of the agricultural workforce each year in developing countries.

In facing the problems, there are now many attempts to develop alternatives to chemical pesticide. Development workers try to help people to restore traditional methods of crop protection, as well as use natural products to fight against pests.

Natural pesticide solutions are easy to make and ingredients are locally available. Here are some examples: Tomato plant solution: Stalks and leaves of a tomato plant are used. Chop it up finely and soak it in boiling water for at least five hours, filter the solution and it is ready for use.

Chill solution: Take 12 chills of any variety with large fruits. Cut them into little pieces and soak them in a litre of water. Leave them to soak for 24 hours, filter and add five litres of soapy water to the solution.

Using biological and simple methods to combat pests saves money and most important of all, reduces the cost on human health and the environment.

Oxfam Hong Kong is a development and relief agency which works with the poor regardless of race, sex, religion or politics in their struggle against poverty, distress and suffering. For more information, please call 2861-1411.