Farmers battle over chemical ban

Farmers battle over chemical ban

Concern over plunge in crop productivity

The proposed ban on three toxic farm chemicals has sparked a battle between farmers groups for and against removing the substances from the market.

Prokkachol Usap, coordinator of the network supporting the ban, said on Sunday her group would meet Public Health Ministry officials today to push for the National Hazardous Substance Committee (NHSC) to ratify the ban. Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has urged people to wear white today in a campaign to end availability of paraquat, glyphosate and chlorpyrifos.

However, today will also see the Federation for Farmers' Safety demand that a ban be postponed. It said the government must first come up with measures to ease the higher costs for cash-crop farmers before the ban is adopted.

Ms Prokkachol on Sunday said the three chemicals were causing intolerable harm to farmers' health.

She said her group was not convinced that the Agriculture Ministry's move to progressively limit use of the chemicals -- published as a directive in five ministerial regulations approved by the NHSC in February -- would work.

Agriculture Minister Chalermchai Sri-on confirmed the five regulations took effect on Sunday. He said the regulations would remain in force as the NHSC considers whether to endorse the ban on the three chemicals tomorrow.

Ms Prokkachol said the only way forward was for the chemicals to be permanently and immediately banned. She agreed, however, that eco-friendly and cost-effective methods of battling weeds on farms must be found. Possible options would be to give farmers access to machines and organic substances to kill the weeds.

The activist warned that if Thailand stuck with toxic chemicals, the country could face international sanctions.

Meanwhile, Sukan Sangkawanna, secretary-general of the Federation for Farmers' Safety, said today's announcement by the federation was backed by farmers of six cash crops including sugar cane, oil palm and cassava.

An outright ban would wreak financial havoc on farmers who would see a spike in their cost of operation and labour. Productivity would also see a drastic decline as a result of the uncontrolled intrusion of weeds.

Currently there are no legal substitutes as effective as the three chemicals, he said.

"Don't look at the farmers as though they are murderers. No one wants to use the chemicals unless it is really necessary," Mr Sukan said.

He added that an immediate ban without reasonable assistance measures in place would drive farmers to buy the three chemicals on the black market. He insisted farmers can be taught to apply the chemicals safely.

Mr Sukan said the federation will visit Mr Chalermchai later today to propose a solution. The federation also advised the government to commission a study as a balance to biases against the three chemicals.

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