by
K.L. Heong, Monina Escalada and Ho Van Chien
Senior Advisor, Centre for Agricultural Bio Sciences International (CABI) SE Asia, Serdang, Malaysia,
Professor Emeritus, Visayas State University, Baybay, Leyte, Philippines and
Director, Southern Regional Plant Protection Center, Long Dinh, Tien Giang, Vietnam

Dr Khang making the announcement that from 2015, Tien Giang province will pay farmers for performing ecological engineering

Dr Khang making the announcement that from 2015, Tien Giang province will pay farmers for performing ecological engineering

In December 2009 we found that plant protection officials in Vietnam despite having obtained IPM training, were generally adopting procedural and political rationality when making decisions related to pest management. They often had to make decisions to distribute free pesticides to combat pest situations.Although they knew the decisions were incorrect they still made them because they perceived that their “superiors” expected them to do so. To resolve their cognitive dissonance, most plant protection officials adopted procedural and political rationality (Simon 1982) instead of substantive rationality. One who follows the procedural rationality can never be wrong as he or she is following the standard operating procedure (SOP) and is performing a task as expected by the boss.

In the focus group discussions we held, plant protection officials were challenged to consider an ecological option rather than a pesticide one and the ecological engineering (EE) approach was introduced. We argued that the EE approach is as effective if not better than the use of pesticides to meet the main objective of low pest attacks and reduced crop losses. Dr Nguyen Van Khang, then the director of agriculture, agreed to allocate a portion of the provincial pesticide budget into ecological engineering demos as he needed data to be generated locally. Since then more demo fields were introduced from 2010 to 2014.

Areas of ecological engineering demonstration fields supported by the provincial government between 2010 and 2014

Areas of ecological engineering demonstration fields supported by the provincial government between 2010 and 2014

At a recent meeting in January 2015, Dr Khang, now the chairman of the Peoples’ Committee of Tien Giang province, announced that after five years of supporting ecological engineering demo fields the provincial government has become convinced that ecological engineering for pest management is effective, economically and environmentally sound. From January 2015 the provincial government decided to adopt ecological engineering as a provincial agricultural policy and funds are now allocated to “pay farmers” to perform ecological engineering activities. Among the activities are the growing of nectar flowers and other crop plants on the bunds and refraining from insecticide spraying in the first 40 days after crop establishment. All insecticide subsidies for plant protection activities in the province have been abolished.

PES or payment for environmental services

Agricultural experts have been debating about developing a system whereby public goods and in particular ecosystem services are fairly valuated. This is often referred to as PES or payment for environmental services that are either directly paid for or are paid for through a new economic activity. It is often difficult to generate a sustainable economic activity and some are exploring for ways to pay farmers directly for environmental services. This concept was explored and discussed by FAO in the annual publication the 2007 SOFA (State of Food and Agriculture).

The 2007 State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) Report featured the importance of providing incentives to farmers who are performing environmental services

The 2007 State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) Report featured the importance of providing incentives to farmers who are performing environmental services

Korea’s environmental friendly agriculture (EFA) policies

In the past in Korea, to ensure high rice production, the government subsidized inputs, like fertilizers and pesticides, rice prices and conduct intensive pest monitoring to issue instructions to farmers and exercise mass pesticide spraying. Recently however, in recognizing the importance of environment and sustainability, the government enacted several agricultural policies that had changed rice landscapes, farmer practices, pesticide consumption and pest situations. In late 1990s the government adopted clean production and environmental friendly agriculture (EFA) policies .

With the implementation of EFA, rice production was transformed. Pesticide and fertilizer subsidies were terminated. Instead the government started a drive for clean production and no pesticide use. Pesticide distribution and marketing regulations were revised and implemented together with promotion and incentives to farmers for conservation. Farmers started growing sesame and soya beans on the bunds to qualify for these incentives illustrating the importance of appropriate pro environment policies, government support and payments to farmers.

Pollination and biological control ecosystem services are important public goods to agriculture and to sustain them agriculture departments in Asia should consider paying farmers to populate their rice bunds with nectar producing flowers, reduce unnecessary insecticide use (like withholding insecticide spraying in the first 40 days after sowing) and other innovative measures that will increase pollinator and natural enemy biodiversity. Such practices may not bring direct individual benefits but when practiced by a large number of farmers over a large area, the biodiversity and ecosystem services in the area can be restored. Thus a policy decision to pay farmers directly for these tasks (rather than support pesticide distribution) is a welcomed development. We hope that other provinces will also consider adopting PES as policy for sustainable agriculture.

In the last 5 years from December 2009 to December 2014 there has been a flurry of activities to promote ecological engineering in Vietnam, the LEGATO project, farmer training, women participation, two TV series, seminars and personal dialogues (“whispering”). These activities have certainly contributed towards the policy change in Tien Giang province. This experience illustrates the importance of engaging with policy makers in activities and constant dialogue to facilitate change.

References

FAO 2007. THE STATE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURE 2007. Paying farmers for environmental services. FAO Rome, Italy. http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a1200e/a1200e00.htm

Simon, H.A. 1982. Models of Bounded Rationality. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA

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