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Paraquat ban will impact farmers: Ministry

Banning the weed killer Paraquat will impact commercial farming in Samoa and those pushing for its prohibition should provide evidence of its dangers to animals.

That is the view of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries [M.A.F.] Chief Executive Officer, Tilafono David Hunter, in response to calls by members of the public and the not-for-profit Animal Protection Society [A.P.S.] for the chemical to be banned in Samoa.

The A.P.S. reported an alarming increase in dog poisoning cases attributed to Paraquat in May this year with the clinic at one stage reporting up to 30 cases in three weeks, compelling the organisation to call for a ban.

However, Tilafono said there is no evidence that dogs were dying from the weed killer unless the animals were “intentionally poisoned”, consequently, he urged the A.P.S. to provide evidence to the Ministry.

He added that the decision to ban the chemical lies with the Pesticide Committee, which the M.A.F. chairs and acts as the secretariat and comprises representatives from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa [S.R.O.S.].

The economic impact of a ban on Paraquat and its wider consequences on the national economy should also be considered, according to Tilafono.

As he says a lot of commercial farming operations utilise the weed killer due to the large size of their farms.

"We have to look at the economic side of things," he said. "Our commercial farmers need Paraquat as part of their work to clear lands up to 50 to 100 acres. But if people want to ban it then a submission has to be made to be fair."

Ultimately, Tilafono believes the responsibility lies with commercial farmers and how they use the chemical, and the need for them to avoid spraying roadsides in residential areas as there are penalties for those kinds of regulation breaches.

"The responsibility rests with commercial farmers if they’re using paraquat or any pesticide for that matter because there are always pesticides that are sprayed on vegetables, insecticides, fungicides which we can't do away with or else the plants don’t grow.”

The M.A.F. supports and promotes organic farming but Tilafono said there is also what is called conventional agriculture, where inorganic chemicals are used and these include fertilisers.

"Some of the inorganic fertilisers that are highly needed here in Samoa because normally our Samoan soil is low in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium content so there is a need to supplement it and the quickest way is to add inorganic N.P.K. [nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium]. 

“Or add organic material which will eventually enter the soil and be biodegradable and the nutrients in the N.P.K. will be released back into the soil.”

As to what happens to Paraquat when it gets into the soil, Tilafono emphasised that it eventually gets into the soil and becomes subject to chemical and biological degradation.

"It [Paraquat] has chemical, biological, physical properties. Any pesticide including Paraquat has fate in the soil and it’s degraded in the soil.

"It’s either absorbed in what is called soil colloids, and that’s where it gets degraded or if it’s in the soil solution, there are microbes’ bacterium that degrades it so there’s a chemical degradation and biological degradation."

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