Following the deaths of 13 people in Kratie province’s Chetr Borie district from poisoning, the Ministry of Agriculture has imposed a temporary ban on all imports of pesticides.
An official statement from the ministry released Friday and signed by Minister Veng Sakhon says that the importation of pesticides into the Kingdom is now strictly prohibited.
The statement, however, fails to provide an expiration date for the ban.
In its statement, the ministry tasks agriculture officials and experts with conducting research on the proper use of pesticides and other chemicals used in agriculture, and teaching farmers their correct use to avoid future accidents.
The statement also demands that border authorities redouble efforts to stem the flow of illegal pesticides into the country, and asks the public to immediately report any cases of poisoning to the authorities.
It also urges farm owners and agricultural firms to contact their local agricultural departments so that they can receive advice on the proper techniques and safety standards that need to be followed when using pesticides.
Song Kheang, director of Mondulkiri’s Agriculture Department, said they have already been trained by the ministry on how to use pesticides properly and that they are now passing that knowledge to farmers.
“We are now telling farmers how to use these pesticides safely to avoid poison levels that could affect people’s health,” he said.
Sam Vithou, director of the Cambodian Centre for the Study and Development of Agriculture, said it is time for the government to tighten its grip on illegal pesticides, arguing that many such products enter the country without being inspected.
“All pesticides must be checked because they are very poisonous, and if the farmer is not careful, they can affect the health of consumers,” he said.
Villagers suggested that the poisoning was caused by cyanide waste that gold mining companies released into the canals, a version of events that was confirmed by Cham Prasidh, the Minister of Industry, but rejected by the Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem.
This discrepancy led Mr Hun Sen to admonish the ministers. According to local media, he said, “Why did Mr Sem and Mr Suy publicly comment on this issue, causing strife between ministries, before consulting with me?
“I will not give up on this issue, so I might decide to fire some ministers.”
Mr Hun Sen then asked the Ministry of Health for its version of events. According to the Ministry of Health, the poisoning was caused by locally-made rice wine contaminated with methanol and other chemical substances used to kill weeds and insects.
After a cabinet meeting on Friday, Mr Prasidh, Mr Sem and Health Minister Mam Bunheng signed a statement saying that the deaths were indeed caused by agricultural pollution resulting from toxic run-off.