Kukiat Soitong, Rice Department, Bangkhen, Bangkok, Thailand and
M.M. Escalada, Visayas State University, Leyte, Philippines
Ministry of Agriculture officials offer prayers to the rice goddess to mark to opening of farmers’ day.
Thailand celebrated National Rice and Farmers’ Day between 3 – 5 June 2011 by hosting the National Rice Conference and holding a rice festival fair in Kasertsart campus. The main theme of the rice conference this year was on Rice Planthoppers caused by misuse of insecticides. The Rice Department and the Thai Agro Business Association (TABA) supported by IRRI launched a campaign to stop the use of cypermethrin and abamectin in rice. The recurrent brown planthopper (BPH) outbreaks in the last 8 seasons is caused by farmers misusing resurgence causing insecticides, especially in the early crop season. BPH loads in many provinces in Central Thailand have increased by more than 150,000 folds!!! Misuse is created by pesticides being marketing as FMCGs (fast moving consumer goods) and farmers relying mainly on the village pesticide retailers for advice.
Panel discussion tackle how insecticide misuse can be controlled to manage planthopper problems
The keynotes of Drs Bas Bouman and K.L. Heong addressed the threat of insecticide misuse to the sustainability of rice production in Thailand, the social impact on farmers, losses in production, the negative environmental and health impacts. The root causes of the rampant misuse are the lacking in regulatory systems to control the marketing of pesticides and trained technicians to provide proper advice. Pesticides being sold like FMCGs contradicts all IPM principles and the local retailers are promoting mixing insecticides into herbicide sprays and prophylactic applications (Read: Manit & Escalada). An international panel facilitated by Dr Bas Bouman discussed and explored for actions to reduce insecticide misuse in Thailand. Panel speakers were from diverse backgrounds: Dr Weerawooth Katanyukul (Thailand, pesticide industry), Dr K.L. Heong (IRRI, research), Professor Geoff Gurr (Australia, academe), Dr Monina Escalada (Philippines, communications), Dr Suprada Sukhonthaphirom (Thailand, pesticide regulation) and Professor Zengrong Zhu (China, academe). The panel and the audience fully recognized that BPH problems are induced by insecticide misuse and after 2 hours of deliberations and discussions concluded that the actions needed to follow the campaign to stop use of cypermethrin and abamectin should include the following:
Farmers continue to be victims of pesticide misuse.
1. Research to develop sustainable ecological engineering strategies.
Although ecological engineering techniques are used extensively in some cases in Europe, New Zealand, Australia and California, there is scope for research to develop similar approaches in rice insect pest management. The prospects of using ecological engineering for pest management in rice production are very high, especially since many of the insect pests are monophagous and invasive in nature and naturally occurring biological controls are key control elements. The use of ecological engineering techniques will help reduce insecticide misuse.
2. Training needs for extension, retailers and farmers.
Most stakeholders in the rice production industry are pro insecticides and will need training to facilitate their understanding of ecological principles. Most retailers and farmers have limited knowledge of pest ecology, modes of insecticide actions and application techniques thus leading to misuse. There is need for Thailand to develop and implement comprehensive training programs directed firstly at extension and retailers to be followed by training of farmers to reduce misuse.
3. Communication and advertising need to be regulated
Farmers’ insecticide misuse is driven by the inadequate and inappropriate information reaching them. The primary sources of pest control information of farmers are the retailers, who lack information on the products and are driven to maximize profits. Retailers are usually not technically qualified. In addition advertising campaigns that use strong emotional appeals influence farmers’ decisions and promote misuse. There is need to improve the information environment of farmers to correct the imbalance that favor the pesticide use. Pesticide advertising needs to be regulated to make risk warnings on misuse and overuse more explicit and exaggerated claims on product efficacy and immediate effects corrected.
4. Urgent actions are needed
Farmers are suffering from pesticide misuse right at this moment. They are spending on pesticides with low returns and creating more pest problems risking crop failures. Some have lost 3 or 4 crops consecutively. They are exposing themselves to acute poison risks and long term damages to their own and families’ health. The pesticide misuse is also damaging the environment, wildlife and fish stocks. Urgent actions are needed to immediately reduce the insecticide misuse. Such actions will need to involve all stakeholders in the pesticide supply chain.
5. Cooperation between agencies, both national and international, and industry
The pesticide misuse problem is large, involving several sectors such as agriculture, public health, irrigation, rice marketing and the pesticide industry. To solve this problem comprehensively, there is need for closer collaborations between the public and private sectors, the rice production and marketing sectors, the research, extension sectors and civil society sectors. TABA needs to be applauded for their support in the current campaign to stop using cypermethrin and abamectin. More such private-public collaborations is needed to establish better environment to avoid pesticide misuse.
6. Changes in pesticide regulations, legislations, pesticide classification in the market and licensing of pesticide retailers.
The major contributors to pesticide misuse are the weak regulations in the marketing of pesticides, the prescriptions, advisory, emotional advertising and sales. Pesticides in Thailand are sold as FMCGs (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) thus permitting excessive advertising to increase sales. IPM promotes rational use of pesticides using knowledge to determine needs. However when pesticides are marketed as FMCGs, knowledge is not essential and farmers buy and use them emotionally rather than based on needs. There is need for governments to consider reclassifying pesticides as poisons and have better regulations to regulate post registration packaging, advertising and marketing. Farmers’ primary source of pesticide advice is from the retailers who are present at grassroots village levels. However the retailers who are dispensing pesticides to farmers are often driven by profit and lack adequate knowledge to recommend suitable products thus resulting in the rampant misuse. There is need to consider the development of a comprehensive licensing system where retailers have adequate training. An improved regulatory and policy framework together with an effective retailer certification and training program will help reduce misuse.