In the last few years rice production in several countries has been severely reduced by insect pests called planthoppers. Besides causing crops to wilt in a condition called “hopperburn”, they also transmit virus diseases. Vietnam has lost about a million tons of rice to this menace since 2006. And in China as much as 4 million tons of rice have been lost in the same period.
Thirty scientists from Australia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) held a workshop in Ho Chi Minh City to develop sustainable strategies to manage this problem. They will develop methods that are broad based that not only build defense in the rice crop, but also defense in the surrounding areas using a new approach called “ecological engineering” pioneered by Professor Geoff Gurr of Australia. “Pests are often kept under control by many predators that live in areas surrounding rice fields. We can engineer the landscape such that these areas become homes to these predator friends”.
In opening the workshop, His Excellency, the Vice Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam, Dr Bui Ba Bong, expressed his special thanks to the the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and IRRI for responding to this urgent need to find sustainable solutions to the pest outbreaks. “With this project we will be able to develop management strategies that are environmentally friendly and will focus on reducing farmers’ risk of losing their crops to outbreaks”. “Very often when pest outbreaks occur, farmers use too much pesticides and we must strive to avoid this” said the Vice Minister.
The initiative was developed by IRRI and funded by the ADB. “Losses due to pest outbreaks are preventable and this project will enable scientists to use their ecological and virology knowledge, plant breeding skills and communication techniques to develop more sustainable approaches” said Dr K.L. Heong, the leader of the project. “We need to motivate thousands of farmers to conserve the predators and effective communication is essential” said Dr. M.M. Escalada, a communication scientist from the Philippines.
The pests also carry virus diseases and infected plants become discolored and stunted with no grains. “Our strategy is to develop methods to limit the spread of the viruses” said Dr I.R. Choi, a scientist at IRRI.
“One way to limit the pest population is to develop rice varieties that have resistance and we are developing new ways to incorporate these genes by plant breeding” said Dr P. Virk, a senior plant breeder at the IRRI.