Sunday, December 3, 2017


Food safety is a serious concern among the consumers of agricultural products. Toxicity risks are created by the acute presence of contaminating chemicals in foods. The usage of chemical inputs in paddy farms has not only caused health issues for farmers but it has also adversely affected the environment, killed animals, and polluted air and water. This creates controversial issues that need immediate attention, since sustainable agriculture needs to meet both consumers’ and farmers’ welfare in terms of food and farmers’ safety, respectively. This study looks at paddy farming practices and the creation of the Farmer Sustainability Index as a measurement to gauge whether farmers are practicing sustainable agriculture by following the Rice Check guideline that has been stipulated by the Department of Agriculture, Malaysia. The questionnaire was constructed to capture the 16 farming practices based on the Rice Check guideline and a score was given to each practice to see whether the guideline is being followed. The data from the questionnaire were analyzed and the Farmer Sustainability Index was calculated. The range of index is from 0 to 100, where 0 is not sustainable at all and 100 is highly sustainable. Eighty (80) paddy farmers from Sungai Petani, Kedah participated in the study and the result shows that 80% of the farmers practice quite unsustainable paddy farming with an average score of less than 40.0 on a scale of 0 -100. This article I adapt from a paper presented at Confrentech MARDI to share with you all.

People are becoming more concerned about their food intake and place greater emphasis on the safety of the food they consume. Thus, food safety has become an important issue among consumers and environmentalists. Chemical hazards, whether chronic or acute, in the food supply have been a major public concern among consumers. Although chemical inputs are an essential part of modern high-input agriculture, it is the toxicity of pesticide residues on and in food which gives rise to these concerns because they could contain certain carcinogenic potentials. The immediate problem faced by consumers is the lack of transparency in the chemical inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides applied in the production process and how many residues are making their way into agricultural products. Since the process of food production has little transparency at field level, it is difficult to keep track of chemical inputs used in terms of timing, frequency, and limits of usage. In the 80s, the issue of sustainability caught consumers’ attention in developed countries like the UK, where the need for farmers to exercise control over foodborne hazards has been emphasized to minimize the food safety crises arising at farm level [3]. The use of pesticides is higher for certain crops such as cotton, rice, vegetables, and fruits in general. Farmers’ use of pesticides is often too frequent and in higher doses than that which is recommended, leading to the presence of high amounts of residue in food commodities. In the 80s, pesticide residues such as Aldrin dieldrin, chlordane, Hexachloro- cyclohexane and others such as Dichlorodiphenyl -trichloroethane were found in fish samples in paddy-farming areas. This could be due to lack of accurate knowledge about pests and their control and hence often a cause for the overuse of chemical inputs and the usage of unauthorized inputs. Study in Malaysia [5] indicated that heavy metals were found in paddy fields derived from the heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides as agrochemicals which are known to contain zinc, copper, lead and cadmium. In the tropical paddy field ecosystem, the heavy use of chemicals such as pesticides has affected the ecosystem of other nontarget organisms such as microalgae and cyanobacteria [6]. In order to examine the degree of sustainability in production practices, various studies which have assessed the production practices at farm level were reviewed. For example, there is a study. Regarding the adaptation of sustainable production practices in paddy fields in Kuttaland, India which is one of the traditional paddy bowls of low-lying reclaimed land. The increase in the use of fertilizers and pesticides has caused epidemics and environmental degradation, thus leading to an attempt to introduce sustainable practices. The concept of sustainable agriculture should neither be consumer oriented nor producer oriented. Consumers are very particular about food safety and farmers also need to be concerned. This is because how farmers produce agricultural products will influence not only food safety but also the farmers’ health. Study in North Carolina and Iowa] alerted that agricultural workers and their families are exposed to pesticides, animal viruses, mycotoxins, dust, fuels, oils, engine exhaust, and fertilizers, which may contribute to cancer through immunologic perturbations and occupational exposure to a variety of potentially hazardous chemicals and biological agents.

There is a study which indicated that the usage of pesticide and inorganic fertilizers on paddy farms has caused health issues among farmers, destroyed paddy-fish culture, killed animals, and caused air and water pollution. In the Philippines, unsafe pesticide storage, handling, short re-entry and disposal practices subject farmers to high levels of health hazards and contaminate the paddy ecosystem. In the case of Malaysia, a study has found that paddy and vegetable cultivation are the main sources of environmental contamination by most organochlorine insecticides in the country. The farmers’ houses in Malaysia are usually located adjacent to the paddy fields and when the wind blows over the recently pesticide-sprayed paddy fields, it carries heavy pesticide mists. There are high rates of acute poisoning due to chlorpyrifos exposure among Malaysian paddy farmers. In Malaysia, the good agricultural practices standards began in 2002 with the introduction of the Farm Accreditation Scheme by the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry.

The Farm Accreditation Scheme is a program designed to accredit farms that adopt Malaysian Good Agriculture Practice (MyGAP). In order to become certified, the farm is required to operate in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way, and yield quality products that are safe according to the three main aspects of the MyGAP Farm Accreditation Scheme which is based on the European Good Agricultural Practices (EuroGAP). The evaluated aspects include the environmental setting of the farm, verification of farm practices and safety of farm products, incorporating traceability and ensuring adequate workers’ welfare within the farm (Department of Economics Malaysia, 2009). The consolidation of programs under MyGAP not only ensures Malaysian produce is benchmarked against international GAP certification schemes such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations  - Good Agricultural Practices (ASEAN GAP) and EuroGAP, but also the GLOBAL GAP (The GLOBAL GAP is the world standard for GAP). Thus, the application of MyGAP allows Malaysia’s agricultural produce to gain better recognition and acceptance both domestically and internationally. In June 2006, a total of 182 fruit and vegetable farms were accredited (from about 1,000 applicants) under the Farm Accreditation Scheme in Malaysia. In 2014, the number of farmers awarded with MyGAP certification increased to 746 out of 278,628 farmers. Since this number is still small and is about 0.3% of the total farmer population, effort needs to be made to encourage farmers to change their mindset and adopt sustainable agricultural practices.

That is, compliance with the international food safety standards and adoption of good agricultural practices requires farmers to invest in precise application of fertilizers such as with the use of the new forms of mechanization. As at 2012  it was observed that paddy farmers in the granary areas are faced with little incentive to invest in new mechanization methods which are necessary in adopting good agricultural practices such as the various precision rice farming methods of input application [15]. Thus, the general objective of this study is to identify the distribution of paddy farmers at different sustainability levels based on their farming practices at the field level in the sub-granary areas of Sungai Petani district, Kedah. The specific objective for this study is to estimate the Farmer Sustainable Index as the level of sustainability in paddy farming practice. A personal interview was conducted among the selected paddy farmers. There were 80 paddy farmers in the sub-granary areas of Sungai Petani district, Kedah who participated in the interviews. This study takes in the potential and possible strategies to promote sustainable agricultural practices among paddy farmers in the area.

Arranged by,
M Anem,
Senior Agronomist,
Room 220, Hotel Leverage,
Alor Setar, Kedah,
(2 October 2017)

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