K.L. Heong, International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines
M.M. Escalada, Visayas State University, Leyte, Philippines
H.V. Chien, Southern Regional Plant Protection Center, Long Dinh, Vietnam
Policy and institutional decisions should be rational but sometimes they may not be. There is substantial scientific research to show that pests such as the rice planthoppers are induced by insecticides and are symptoms or backlashes of insecticide dependency. These insects are monophagous, highly mobile, have rapid reproductive capacities and well adapted to short term crops. Normally regulated by the diversity of predators and parasitoids that inhibit in and around the rice fields these insects outbreak when the ecosystem’s regulatory services are compromised by pesticides. In the 1970s similar planthopper outbreaks threatened Asian rice production and an Indonesian illustrated the problem using a cartoon (see picture).
Huffacker (1971) showed that pesticide addicted agricultural systems generally exhibit symptoms such as pest resurgence, secondary pest outbreaks and insecticide resistance. All these three symptoms now exist in the Mekong Delta. Planthopper outbreaks are caused by either resurgences or secondary developments. Planthoppers in the Mekong are have developed more than 200 fold resistance to some insecticides. Yet in the last 3 years the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) has released more insecticides than before to rice farmers in response to planthopper outbreaks. For instance in 2006 MARD released an emergency budget of US$ 6.6 million for planthopper management and 55% was used to purchase and distribute insecticides to farmers . Why does science seem to have little impact on policy and institutional decisions?
Herbert Simon (1976) distinguished between substantive and procedural rationality adopted by decision makers. Scientifically produced knowledge contributes to substantive rationality. Such knowledge describes phenomena and explains causal factors. It provides the factual basis for better decisions and satisfies scientific criteria of validity and objectivity. Scientific knowledge is key to deciding on the “best” or the optimal outcome. However most policy and institutional decisions have procedural components and they often displace substantive rationality. In addition policy decisions usually do not focus on optimization or the “best” based on scientific knowledge. Instead they focus on “reasonableness” and what is expected of them in the position they hold.
In February 2009 we conducted a focus group discussion with 15 plant protection practitioners in the Mekong Delta to understand how they make decisions in response of pest outbreaks. It appeared that they rely more on procedural rationality. It is now general knowledge that planthoppers are induced by insecticides and sprays do more harm than good. But the plant protectionists’ main response whenever an outbreak occurs is limited to insecticide distribution as it is expected of them by their bosses as well as by farmers. While the “best” decision based on scientific research is not to apply more sprays as they will worsen the situation, it is not an acceptable decision based on procedural rationality. In fact, a person who will make a decision based on substantive rationality and science will have limited peer support and will even fear losing his or her “chair’ or position. For FGD report, click here.
Plant protection services were established to “protect” crops from pests based on the goals of the 1960s and 1970s when food production was the main objective. Typically plant protection services are structured like fire brigade services, equipped for rapid and mass control. The Tien Giang provincial government for instance would stock enough insecticides to spray 30% of the agricultural production area for emergency mass controls. While there have been numerous papers, discussions, seminars and conferences calling for change in plant protection services to meet the challenges of new pest management environments, these services in Vietnam and indeed in many Asian countries, have remained quite the same. Thus decisions based procedural rationality are limited to mass controls. While such strategies might be useful for some pests, they are ineffective for managing insecticide induced pests, such as the planthoppers, and tend to make the situations worse. Valuable ecosystem services are destroyed rendering rice ecosystems vulnerable to planthopper invasions and with weak abilities to regulate hoppers that succeed in establishing. Read related post here.
Our task is to facilitate bridging the gap between substantive and procedural rationality and incorporating scientific information to improve pest management decisions. The present policy decisions favor insecticide use and cause further deterioration of the ecosystem services. Such decisions are not sustainable and will likely cause environmental pollution and further deteriorations to biodiversity and ecosystem services, like planthopper situations in China. To prevent future planthopper outbreaks, change in policy decision procedures that will use insecticides as a last resort, rather than as first response, will be needed. Tools for facilitating change such as decision support systems and multi agent simulations can be useful, but they will need to incorporate stakeholder participation. Communicative tools such as policy dialogues, consultations (e.g. workshops, informal discussions), extended involvements (e.g. advisory committees, task forces), public information feedback (polls, focus groups, surveys) and joint planning (e.g. partnerships, negotiations) used in non confrontational manner will be expected to play bigger roles.
Huffaker, C.B. 1971. Biological Control. Plenum Press, NY.
Escalada, M.M. Huan, N.H. and Heong, K.L. 2008. The Brown Planthopper and Virus Problems in Vietnam – A Scoping Study. Proceedings of the Final Consultation Workshop held in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 8 January 2008. Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Vietnam. CD. Also in http://www.aciar.gov.au/node/8846.
Simon, H.A. 1976. Administrative Behavior: A Study of Decision Making Processes in Adminstrative Organization. Harper & Row, NY.