GEORGE TOWN: Food production has one of the biggest effects on the environment, and the Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (Panap) is starting a “multiversity” to mark World Environment Day today and to show farmers how to avoid using pesticides.
Dubbed the International People’s Agroecology Multiversity, the movement comprises 10 field-learning sites in Asia and one in Africa which farmers can visit to see how it is done.
Panap executive director V.R. Sarojeni said the sites are training centres or “campuses” made up of farms, NGOs, institutions and universities that offer on-site learning and collaboration on ecological farming methods, innovations and techniques.
“Last year, researchers from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia found several types of pesticides in all of Cameron Highlands’ river and tap water.
“We understand the economic risks farmers take if they don’t use pesticides, but the rampant use of such chemicals cannot go on,” she said yesterday.
On top of the harm pesticides have on “innocent insects” , Sarojeni said that long-term low-level exposure to such poisons in the food chain has been proven to cause people to have reduced immunity, organ functionality and interrupted hormone production.
“It is more serious for children and especially risky for foetuses.”
Using the show-and-tell method, the “multiversity” will take farmers to other farms where pesticides are not used.
Sarojeni admitted that the initial sessions had been “really tough” and it was difficult to convince farmers to attend the sessions and adopt a pesticide-free approach.
But the Penang-based NGO was happy to note that a farmer who attended a session with five others had stopped using pesticides in his cabbage farm.
“Cabbage farmers are plagued by the diamondback or cabbage moth. In the 1980s, the Government introduced a species of wasp that fed on the moth’s caterpillars but when farmers use pesticides, the wasps die, too.
“So we have to show farmers in Cameron Highlands how the wasps will thrive in a cabbage farm where no pesticides are used, and the presence of the wasps will ensure that the caterpillars do little damage,” she said.
In Sik, Kedah, Sarojeni said farmers will also be able to learn from the Sri Lovely Farmers Cooperative which produces certified organic rice.
“We are also releasing a video titled ‘Happy Farmer’ which shows how a farm can function without pesticides. It’s a gargantuan task to show farmers how to make the ecology work for them and abstain from spraying, but we hope our effort will inspire farmers to do so,” she added.