Finbarr Horgan, International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines
Corazon Arroyo, DA-WESVIARC, Hamungaya, Iloilo City, Philippines
M. M. Escalada, Visayas State University, Philippines
K. L. Heong, International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines
On 9 and 10 June 2009, IRRI scientists conducted focus group discussions (FGD) with rice farmers in Iloilo, Philippines as a prelude to examining farmers’ attitudes and perceptions regarding insect resistance in rice. This ongoing work is aimed at improving the deployment or resistant varieties for sustained management of insect pests. Facilitated by the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA), scientists and farmers mainly discussed trends and limiting factors in rice production, adoption of new technologies, and factors that influence farmers’ choices of rice varieties. Thirty-three farmers (19 women and 14 men) attended 3 focus groups at Barangay Lumbo (Pototan), Barangay Siniba-an (Dingle) and Barangay Monpon (Barotac Nuevo) in Iloilo Province.
Among the varieties commonly planted by farmers in the communities were NSIC Rc136H (Mestizo 7) (average yield 6.7, max. yield 10.6t/ha; denoted intermediate resistance [I] to blast and bacterial blight), NSIC Rc138 (Tubigan 5) (average yield 5.5, max. yield 8.4t/ha; I to bacterial blight, brown planthopper [Nilaparvata lugens Stål][BPH], green leaf hopper [Nephotettix virescens Distant][GLH] and moderately resistant [MR] to stemborer [Scirpophaga incertulas (Walker)]) and NSIC Rc150 (Tubigan 9) (average yield 5.9, max yield 7.8t/ha; I to blast and bacterial blight). These varieties yield about 5 to 6 t/ha on Iloilo farms. Older varieties with multiple resistance, such as IR36 (average yield 4.8t/ha; resistant [R] to GLH, blast and bacterial blight, and MR to stemborer) and IR60 (average yield 4.8t/ha; R to BPH, stemborer, blast, bacterial blight and tungro) were used by some farmers. Based on the discussions, a number of commonly held opinions were apparent: farmers unanimously prioritized high yield and good eating quality as key traits when selecting rice varieties for planting. Early maturity was also desirable as farmers wished to increase the number of plantings from two to three per year. However, variety selection seems largely determined by seed availability and a dominant role played by local seed producers who sometimes override farmers’ perceptions or desires when making seed available.
Production losses were attributed to a variety of causes, including weather (drought) and poor nutrient management (that led to increased disease incidence). Insect damage was rarely expressed as a major limiting factor in rice production among these farmers. However, many of the farmers were members of ‘Palayamanan’ (Intensive Rice-Based Farming Systems Technology Demonstration Farms launched by the DA – Philippine Rice Institute (PhilRice) and the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) and aimed at increasing the production, yield, and income of farmers through the adoption of new technologies and crop diversification). Most of these farmers, who receive regular training in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) from the DA, did not apply pesticides. However, some members of Palayamanan, did apply Niclosamide for control of ‘kuhol’ or golden apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata Lamarck). Other farmers (generally not members of Palayamanan) applied a range of pesticides to prevent possible damage by armyworm (Spodoptera spp.) and ‘waya waya’ (local name for hoppers) regardless of rice variety.
Iloilo farmers mentioned armyworm and rice bug (Leptocorisa oratorius [F.]) among the major insect problems (sapat-sapat) affecting their rice crops. They indicated that synchronous planting of rice crops, as promoted by the DA, had led to a major improvement in crop health. Though armyworm had not attacked fields of any of the participant farmers, they feared spread of armyworm from adjacent infested fields, particularly after these fields were sprayed or harvested. Farmers believe that the rice bug is a problem only in geographically isolated farms. A fear of insect spread was often the determining feature behind farmers’ actions regarding insecticide use: many farmers expressed fear that insects would disperse from adjacent insecticide treated fields to their non-sprayed fields. In some areas, this caused a ‘domino spraying effect’, with farmers’ actions based on an erred perception of their protecting fields from ‘refugee’ insects. In spite of this fear of insect spread, farmers did not generally integrate resistant varieties into their IPM programs and were generally unaware of the specific resistances (BPH, stemborer, etc) and resistance levels (R, MR, etc) among the varieties they planted.
Overall farmers’ understanding of resistant varieties was confused, some believing that ‘resistant rice’ referred to a general resistance against all insects and pathogens; others understood that resistance was directed against specific pests (as indicated in promotional material from the DA and seed companies), but they were generally unaware of which pests were affected by resistance in the varieties that they themselves planted; some farmers confused ‘resistance’ with ‘immunity’; however, for the most part, farmers were aware that resistant rice will reduce insect damage to non-threatening levels, but does not eliminate the insects altogether. A small number of farmers confused ‘resistance’ with ‘tolerance’ or with ‘high yielding’. Furthermore, there was a general perception among participants at one of the communities that ‘certified seed’ is always ‘resistant’ and always ‘high-yielding’.
Farmers’ understanding of ‘hybrid rice’ was often similarly confused. Some farmers believed that the term ‘hybrid’ was used to indicate ‘high [hy] yield’ and ‘high [hy] eating quality’. Whereas many farmers were aware that only F1 hybrid seed should be planted, at least some farmers had used their own, or purchased (from neighboring farms) F2 seeds incurring losses due to segregation which they interpreted as poor synchrony in panicle maturation (leading to panicle shatter). For the most part, farmers appeared uninterested in hybrid varieties which they saw as being prohibitively expensive (without government subsidies) compared to inbred varieties and that limited planting to a single season.
One of the most worrying trends that was observed, was a lack of interest among young people from the communities in continuing the farming tradition. None of the farmers had any sons or daughters currently engaged in farming, and at Barangay Lumbo, many of the youth had already immigrated to Europe after completing a nursing degree.
Overall, the FGD indicated a very positive effect of the DA-IPM training program among its participants; however, many farmers still base their decisions to spray (or not) insecticides (referred to as ‘bulong’; literally ‘medicine’) on perceived risks as suggested from neighboring farms and farmers, as well as extension officers and chemical companies Chemical companies had an apparently high profile among the communities and communicated regularly and directly (by text) with some farmers. Currently, insect resistance appears to be overlooked by many, if not most farmers, who base variety selection on local yield trials (either by DA or through previous farmer experience) alone and not on any indicated levels of insect or pathogen resistance. Nevertheless, when asked what traits farmers would like breeders to develop, they listed resistance to a range of insect pests (including armyworm and rice bug) as desirable. These FGDs revealed often surprising perceptions among farmers that will allow IRRI scientists to better examine farmers’ attitudes during future work, and eventually to recommend strategies to improve varietal deployment for sustainable pest management. This work would not be possible without the willingness and support of the DA and the openness and sincerity of the local farmers of Iloilo.