Big players and smallholders differ on ban decision

GEORGE TOWN: While oil palm smallholders say the government should just enforce strict regulations on the use of paraquat, the big players welcomed the impending full ban on the weedkiller.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA) also backed the decision with its secretary Peter Benjamin saying the primary concern should be workers’ health.

“The government regulates the use. In the oil palm industry, it is only used to protect immature oil palms from weed infestation and there are strict rules but there are people who still manage to abuse it, ” he said.

Benjamin, who is the chief executive officer of United Malacca Bhd, said his company had already banned paraquat in all its plantations sprawling 108,000ha in Melaka and Indonesia.

Malaysian Estate Owners Association (MEOA) council member Ong Kim Pin, who is an agriculture consultant, said due to the practicality of paraquat, the government should order controls on its use instead of an outright ban.

“After 60 years of use, paraquat has proven to have no detrimental effect on the environment. It binds immediately with clay particles in the soil and biodegrades there. There is no leaching into waterways.

“The only problem with paraquat is that there is no antidote in case someone drank it, ” he said yesterday.

Research published last May in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine showed that of the 1,232 paraquat poisoning calls received by the Malaysia National Poison

Centre between 2004 and 2015, suicidal poisoning was the highest (57.2%), followed by accidental poisoning (30.8%) and occupational poisoning (3.3%).

Ong said his 88-year-old association represented the interests of owners controlling over a million hectares of plantations in the country.

On the government’s view of there being other safer pesticides, Ong said there were different uses for them.

“There are two groups in the market: contact and systemic herbicides. Paraquat is a contact herbicide that quickly kills by chemically burning the plants’ leaves and other structures. It is not absorbed by plants, ” he said.

Contact herbicides, he said, enabled farmers to get the weeds out of the way quickly for them to expedite their work, even though the weeds would also re-grow quickly.

Systemic herbicide, on the other hand, could take up to three months to work, although the effect lasted longer, he added.

“Glyphosate is a systemic herbicide. It is absorbed by the roots, leaves and even the fruits. It will kill all plants. If I have a sick oil palm tree, I just have to inject a high dose of glyphosate into the trunk and it will die.

“There are already concerns of glyphosate leaving harmful residues in fruits and grains. In the United States, there are on-going class action suits against glyphosate makers by consumers who claim they got cancer from those residues, ” he added.

In Petaling Jaya, industry players say they are in the dark over the impending ban on paraquat.

National Association of Smallholders (NASH) president Datuk Aliasak Ambia said it has not received any notice from the Pesticides Board or the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry.

“We have not received any notice. If they want to ban (paraquat), then they must replace it with something else.

“There must be an alternative solution, and it must be equally strong when you compare it to paraquat, ” he said when contacted yesterday.

Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Sim Tze Tzin however said the Pesticides Board has already issued a circular to all relevant parties.

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