Thailand: Healthy agriculture

"More efficient tools and methods for policy decision-making can help Thailand to cope efficiently with the threats that excessive agro-chemical utilization pose to the country's rapid development."
Senior health officer, Thai Department of Health

Thai people in rice fields
2002 UNEP/ Topham

Thailand is regarded as an emerging economy that has experienced rapid industrial growth. Nonetheless, 65% of the country's workforce is employed in agriculture -- ranging from the traditional rice sector to expanding export-oriented cultivation of products such as tropical fruits and cotton. In order to boost agricultural production and efficiency there has been a marked increase in the use of more powerful agricultural chemicals, both herbicides and pesticides. Anecdotal evidence indicates an increased incidence of agrochemical misuse and occupational farm worker exposure, partly due to field workers’ inadequate understanding of the acute toxicity and long-term health hazards associated with improper pesticide use. Marketing strategies that aim to maximize pesticide sales sometimes exacerbate these problems. At the same time, economic losses can occur if unacceptable levels of pesticide residues are found in produce designated for export.

The process

An environmental health impact assessment (EHIA) is being conducted for the use of agrochemicals. This is coordinated by the Thai Department of Health and the Health Systems Research Institute, in collaboration with the Thai Food and Drug Administration, Departments of Agriculture and Agricultural Extension, Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning and a range of civil society NGOs. The goal is to provide an evidence-based assessment of agricultural pesticides for sustainable agricultural development, from a health and environment perspective. This includes analysis of existing policies and legislation and the development of new national policy recommendations. Improved guidelines and tools and their pilot application at the local level also are part of the process. The assessment supports Thailand's own drive to mainstream and institutionalize health impact assessment as part of its sustainable healthy public policy. Findings will be presented at a national event and workshop cosponsored by WHO/UNEP and hosted by Thailand with regional participation.