**This article was published in English and has no translation in Bahasa Melayu**
**This article was published in THE STAR on 29 August 2019.
By Professor Dr. Wong Mui Yun
Referring to the media coverage dated 22nd June 2019 regarding the high usage of insecticides in Cameron Highlands that led to the launching of Biological Control Agent program at Cameron Highlands by Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry, Sim Tze Tzin.
The increase use of chemicals is causing a great concern among agriculture experts. This is because a large amount of pesticides are used in the agriculture sector. As we all know, the negative impact of injudicious use of pesticides on human, animals, plants and the environment is huge.
Pesticides are commonly used in crop production to reduce yield losses caused by pests and diseases, therefore, increasing the income of farmers. These chemicals are used due to their immediate and indiscriminate effects, relatively low costs and easily available in the market.
In 2017, the total sales on pesticides was RM719 million with the growth rate of 16.3%. This amount has increased from RM563 million in 2012. From the total amount, herbicides consisted the highest sales which was RM396 million with growth rate of 14.1% followed by insecticides RM194 million (15.5%), fungicides RM98 million (28.9%) and rodenticides RM31 million (16.3%) (Source: Malaysia CropLife and Public Health Association, MCPA).
Due to the adverse effects of pesticides on living organisms and environment, and the issue of food safety such as the use of a banned pesticide detected in rice, their usage must be monitored and advised by agriculture professionals. Another concern is the rampant usage of illegal pesticides where they are not registered with Pesticide Board, of the Department of Agriculture, therefore, the detrimental effects on living organisms and environment are unknown. When tested in the laboratory, illegal pesticides contained toxic contaminants which are not allowed to be used.
Pesticide Board regulates the registration of pesticides for agriculture application and offers services including plant pest and disease control, and pesticide application. However, the reality is that farmers are most often advised by dealers and distributors of agrochemical companies which are not certified as agriculture professionals.
To mitigate the above situation, the Department of Agriculture is spearheading the preparation towards getting the Agrologist Act approved by the Parliament at the end of this year and they are assisted by Agriculture Institute of Malaysia (AIM) and Faculty of Agriculture, Universiti Putra Malaysia. With this Act approved, graduates of agriculture-based programs from any higher education institutions will be recognized as professionals in the likes of Dr., Ir., LAr, Ts and others.
While pesticides use is necessary to increase yield to feed a growing population, it is considered a last option in integrated pest management approach. Non-chemical strategies for crop protection that are safe to living organisms and the environment are available such as 1) biological-based methods which is generally termed biopesticides such as the use of microorganisms (biological control agents), plant extracts or natural compounds and RNA molecules, and 2) ecological engineering methods such as maintaining natural enemies in their natural environment to control pests and diseases in the field.
The ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry is moving to the right direction towards facilitating chemical-free and environmental-friendly agriculture in Malaysia in regards to the launching of biological control agents in Cameron Highlands. To achieve this aspiration, more need to be done and all stakeholders have to play their respective role. Political will is needed.
Policy makers are wise to focus on encouraging the use of non-chemical inputs in agriculture sector including non-chemical fertilizers, such as giving incentives to farmers who opt for non-chemicals usage in their farms; imposing higher taxes for manufacturing chemicals but giving incentives for production of biopesticides; and assisting local start-ups or SMEs financially to focus on manufacturing bio-based agriculture inputs.
In the current scenario, locally produced and commercialized biopesticides are very limited or non-existence. Research universities such as Universiti Putra Malaysia produce several biopesticides that are available for adoption and commercialization by the government and SMEs.
On the other hand, farmers play an important role by adopting chemical-free crop protection methods or integrated pest management in their farm production systems. However, they need to understand the way biopesticides and ecological engineering methods work where their effects are not immediate but take a longer period of time compared to chemical method as they involved living organisms. Nonetheless, these methods are sustainable and safe to living organisms and the environment.
In this regard, agriculture extension agents play an important role to educate the farmers. There are some modern farmers who are open to this alternative method but such products are limited or not cost-effective due to importation. Furthermore, consumers play a critical role in pushing chemical-free agriculture produces and products by demanding such goods in their daily lives.
Chemical-free crop protection in agriculture is possible with the change of mindset in all stakeholders to be led by the government. This practice contributes to sustainable agriculture and food security as well as it is in line with several of the United Nation’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) including no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, decent work and economic growth, responsible consumption and production, and life on land.
Professor Dr. Wong Mui Yun