I had crisscrossed all over Sabah during the recent March 8 General Election, whilst campaigning for a friend and his political party PASOK which had 14 indigenous candidates contesting the elections, who all lost their election deposits. Jokes aside, all the candidates lost their deposit and I shall write about this another time, but for now, let me just stick to pesticides, a subject very close to my heart.

During campaign, while crisscrossing over the Sabah landscape, I took the opportunity to feel and see 1st hand the agricultural transformation taking place in the Land Below The Wind. I saw vast tracks of land cleared for oil palm cultivation all over and the severe adverse effects of deforestation on indigenous people and the haphazard ways of pesticide usage, and I came away with a strange sense of helplessness and frustration, indeed appalling, as in the past.

I interviewed close to a hundred farmers. Visited countless vegetables and fruit farms who cater supplies to all over Sabah. Saw the pesticides in use. Visited oil palm estates/plantations and their pesticide stores – some with the knowledge of their owners or managers but many without any consent from the owners (please don’t ask how I did it!).

What I’m going to reveal here may frighten many. Up to 90% of the farmers I spoke to admitted using banned pesticides on their crop. Yes, up to 90% of the hundred over farmers I met and spoke to, all, use banned pesticides on their vegetables and fruits which we consume in Sabah.

And why do these farmers use banned pesticides? They use it because it is more effective than the permitted pesticides and this is a known practice since USNO days.

Yes, since USNO days and I too was a culprit, then, supplying banned stuff to farmers in Sabah. I am sorry for this but it was a longtime ago when I was still in the industry, but, it is still happening now. As I said in my letter to Daily Express on 9th July, 2006 “Cannot Shut Eye On Pesticide Sales” where I talked about an agrochemical dealer in Tawau who was caught and jailed for selling stolen fertilizer and chemicals and who is still operating in the market, and another dealer also in Tawau, a mastermind who supplied close to RM 1 million worth of adulterated pesticide to Sama Subur a semi-government body, and still very much in the market. And many more out there, with dark past and who are still in the agriculture industry supplying pesticides.

However the consolation is, the farmers using banned pesticides on short-term crops usually stop using the dangerous chemicals on their crops whenever it was close to harvesting time. They spray the banned pesticides on their crops twice a week during the 3 months period while their crops are growing. About 20 days before harvesting, they switch to the permitted pesticides.

And where do the farmers get the banned pesticides? The banned pesticides could be bought from any local agrochemical dealer in Sabah. The agrochemical dealers in Sabah get their stocks from Thailand thru agents in West Malaysia.

There are about 15 types of such banned pesticides available in the market including the brands of Super Mac, Lannate, Naporex and Vertimec, which cost between RM80 and RM400, depending on weight and quantity of active ingredients.

Although at least 80% of the vegetables and fruits were being consumed in Sabah, only 20% is sent to Brunei and West Malaysia. The crops to Brunei and West Malaysia would be treated with fewer pesticides and would be washed thoroughly before they are packed and exported.

Sometime back, my brother in law a major fresh fruit planter cum distributor supplying mainly cavendish banana and pamelo to Brunei told me, his fellow planter from Tenom who also supplies to Brunei honeydew melon, said, even the outer skin of the honeydew melon has got so much pesticides sprayed on it that on feeding just the outer skin of the honeydew melon to his pet rabbits, had all his 10 rabbits dying of poisoning. He was to paranoid to talk to anyone about this. Just imagine this! I was disgusted when I heard this.

It is really shocking to know that the Federal Agriculture and Agrobased Industry indicates that less than 5% of all fresh fruits and vegetables sold in Malaysia contain high pesticides. This information according to the Federal Agriculture and Agrobased Industry is from the Health Ministry.

Even more shocking is a press statement from the Director of the Food Quality Control Division of the Health Ministry entitled “ No Excessive Pesticide In Greens.” In this press statement the Director of the Food Quality Control Division of Health Ministry provides data on the significant reduction in the contravention of permissible pesticide residue levels in food over the years.

But the data provided does not have detailed sampling and testing plan for pesticide residues. In fact, since the 90’s, I have been requesting for these details and had even written in the Daily Express many times for the authorities to provide for these details. But was never entertained.

Let me again ask the authorities please provide us the raw data on the number of samples collected, matched with the breakdown by PRODUCTS, the location where these individual samples were collected, the pesticides that were tested and the respective results. Only these information would allow the public to know whether samples covered all the key vegetables and fruit products, the areas where the products are from and also what were the specific pesticide tested.

The public should not be merely given some general information that does not address the issues at all.

Even on the Food Quality Division website, it is stated that “However, laboratories can provide only 12% of the Maximum Residue Limits set pesticides, which find it difficult to conduct monitoring on pesticide residues in agriculture products.

Hence based on just this statement, it would mean that only about 25 of the more than 200 pesticides listed on the Food Act could be tested.

So, what about the remaining 175 pesticides and what was to ensure that they were not present in our vegetables and fruits?

I call upon the authorities to reveal detailed information on the sampling and testing plan together with the results of the last few years and also the numbers of pesticides that can be tested. The authorities should also provide information on when sampling and testing was done. Testing should be done continuously throughout the year, at the source i.e. the farms as well as the Tamus and markets or any other points of sale.

And lastly, our new State Agriculture Minister Datuk Yahaya Hussein should take a serious view on the pesticide usage on our agricultural crops and if he needs any inputs from me, I would be more than glad to provide.

The decision Datuk Seri Panglima Yahaya Hussein makes will only reinforce Sabahans views that the Federal Government is serious about resolving the pesticide problem in Sabah.

Selvaraja Somiah
Selvaraja can be contacted at email: selvaraja_1@hotmail.com

Refer MalaysiaToday http://mt.m2day.org/2008/content/view/9698/84/

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