Vietnam can cut pesticide use significantly without productivity loss: expert

By Phuong Lam   July 21, 2020 | 03:33 pm GMT+7
Vietnam can cut pesticide use significantly without productivity loss: expert
A farmer in north-central Ha Tinh Province sprays pesticide on a field. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung.

The Vietnam Plant Protection Association (VNPPA) has called for a 30 percent cut to deal with long-standing pesticide overuse in the country.

It says cutting pesticide use by 30 percent will not impact agricultural productivity.

Truong Quoc Tung, standing deputy chairman of VNPPA, said recently that Vietnam needs to have a strategy on pesticide usage for the coming years given the long-standing problem of overuse.

He said the overuse is approaching crisis proportions, harming humans, plants, the environment and the economy.

Tung cited an experiment in the Mekong Delta’s An Giang Province that showed a reduction in the frequency of yearly pesticide use did not affect productivity.

Tung said there are three stages to pesticide use that have been observed by scientists. The first one is a period when pesticides are "necessary and beneficial" for productivity without harming food safety and the environment, the second is a period of excessive pesticide usage, and the third a "pesticide usage crisis."

Vietnam is currently transitioning from excessive usage period to usage crisis period, with the country using around 100,000 tons of pesticide a year starting 2015, Tung said. Before 1990, Vietnam used less than 10,000 tons a year.

"The amount of imported pesticides every year is over 100,000 tons, while the list of approved pesticides amounts to over 1,600 substances and over 4,000 products. For me, that’s too much," Tung said.

A pesticide use crisis will badly damage the environment, the economy and public health, and in Vietnam there is evidence that this is happening already. Banned pesticides are being used, the environment is polluted and agricultural products are being sent back after being shipped abroad.

"The more we use pesticides the more we depend on them, causing a loss of balance in the ecosystem, in which pests’ natural predators disappear and diseases thrive. It seems that the use of pesticides has become a habit that farmers can’t kick."

However, Tung said the pesticides were not harmful by themselves, it is how they are used and managed that decide whether they have a positive or a negative impact.

Among the approved substances and pesticide products, only 15-20 percent are biological while the rest are chemical. While the list of approved pesticides has been updated regularly over the last few years by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Plant Protection Department, the number of products and substances removed from the list was much lower than the number of new additions, said Tung.

This meant farmers had the means to do more damage, not to mention using banned products that they can access through border trade, he added.

The ever-increasing business network for pesticides is also to blame for the current problem, Tung said, explaining that this left regulatory agencies short-staffed. In the 2010 decade, Vietnam had already had around 200 pesticide production firms and 29,000 retail outlets, meaning a single inspector would be in charge of 290 stores, which was too much to handle.

"Now that a decade has passed, the business network would be larger still. The agencies cannot fully control and prevent the sale and use of banned pesticide and other related substances," said Tung.

Vietnam is also heavily reliant on imports for its pesticides, more than half of it coming from China. While there have been proposals for the government to develop its own pesticide industry to be less reliant on imports, such a move could also worsen environmental pollution, he added.

Vietnam should not only reduce pesticide use, it should also make them safer and more environmentally friendly by increasing the quantity of biological products and reducing that of chemicals. The country should also remove more harmful products from the list of approved pesticides, Tung said.

Farmers should also realize that they are creating trouble for themselves with pesticide overuse and strive to rely less on them, he added.

 
 
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