K.L. Heong, International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines
The recent flurry of brown planthopper outbreaks in Thailand and Indonesia threatening rice production has been caused by insecticide misuse. Among the root causes of the rampant misuse is the weak control of pesticide marketing which is like a house with no roof. These poisons continue to be sold as FMCGs (Fast Moving Consumer Goods), like cigarettes, cosmetics, soaps, detergents and potato chips. The main marketing strategy is focused on emotional buying, which contradicts all IPM principles to use pesticides based on economic and ecological rationale. In many countries farmers’ insecticide use have returned to prophylactic routines propagated in the Green Revolution of the 1970s and 1980s. In the Philippines these weekly spray practices were called “Monday-Monday” and “Seven-Seven”.
A deeper concern that pesticide misuse bring about are threats to human health. Recently tourists died in a hotel where chlorpyrifos was misused to treat for bed bugs (Read: Bed bug pesticide poisoning). In Thailand about 42% of human toxic exposures are caused by pesticides and about 50% of these are from insecticide poisoning according to Professor W. Wananukul.
While there are increasing numbers of pesticide related problems being reported, there are more that remain unreported. In Vietnam great achievements are being made in rice exports reaching 7.4 million tons, pesticide misuse problems are also increasing. In outlying villages of Northern Vietnam, over 91% of the farmers show signs of pesticide poisoning and farm chemicals may be the key contributor to increase in cancer cases (Read: Pesticides blight health of farm workers).
The root cause of increasing pesticide misuse lies in the weak regulations of pesticide marketing. Quite unlike developed countries, namely those in Europe, the USA and Australia, the marketing of pesticides in many developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America have less restriction. As a result in some countries, the same pesticide are sold in more than 500 names, companies advertise to create emotional buying among farmers and most pesticides are sold over the counters (OTC), by vendors with little or no expertise.
Weak pesticide marketing policies is like a “house with no roof” and all the fine furniture will eventually be destroyed. Sustainable pest management technologies and practices such as insect resistant genes, IPM, ecological engineering, insecticide reduction campaigns, farmer participatory research and farmer training introduced in the past 20 years in Asia had improved pest management (Matteson 2000) but are now very badly eroded. In Indonesia, rice farmers have returned to applying insecticides prohibited by the Presidential Degree 1986 and the millions of US$ spent on IPM training washed away. Recently Thailand announced the banning of resurgence causing insecticides as an immediate step towards developing sustainable pests management systems. But unless the “roof of the house” is repaired (ie improving pesticide marketing policies) such efforts will again be eroded or destroyed by the pesticide tsunami. Farmers will once again fall into the vicious cycle of repeated spraying and repeated BPH outbreaks.
Occupants in the house with no roof are not protected. Similarly weak pesticide policies leave citizens unprotected, both farmers and consumers, from the direct and indirect ill effects of poisonous pesticides. They not only create new pest and related social problems, they also weaken human health and ecosystems. A fundamental prerequisite for rational pest management, IPM and sustainable agriculture is a functional “pesticide policy roof”. While research continues to focus on developing new technologies, new concepts and management techniques (new furniture) and extension on information delivery and farmer training, little attention is paid to the most essential, the policy roof. Some efforts may have immediate effects but none will be sustainable when there is no roof or the roof is leaky. It is time for crop protection scientists and practitioners to refocus attention to not just developing technological silver bullets, but to fix the enabling environment or we will continue to place new furniture (new technologies) into the house with no roof and farmers continue to be victims.
Matteson, P.C. 2000. Insect Pest Management in Tropical Asian Irrigated Rice. Ann Rev. Entomology 45, 549 – 574.