K.L. Heong, Joy Delos Reyes, International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines and Larry Wong, Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Malaysia
Rice planthoppers have re emerged as serious threats to rice production to in several Asian countries. They cause instability in rice production, financial losses and suffering to thousands of farmers as they face crop failures. Planthopper outbreaks can inflict complete crop losses (called puso in Indonesia) in a matter of couple of months. Scientifically shown to be insecticide induced the two planthopper species, the brown planthopper (BPH) and the white back planthopper (WBPH) are destroying rice crops in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam through either direct feeding or through the 3 virus diseases they carry. In 2005 China lost about 2.7 millions tons and had been losing about 1 million tons annually. Vietnam in 2007 lost 0.7 million tons, Thailand between 2009 and 2011 lost about 1.1 million tons and Indonesia in 2011 lost about 0.8 million tons. Such losses can be avoided if insecticide use in rice ecosystems is better managed.
The effect of the current insecticide regimes to rice farmers is questionable because in most cases they follow prophylactic schedules, apply resurgence causing insecticides and use poor equipment. Most of the insecticides are used improperly or are misused. One study found that in the Philippines about 77% of rice farmers’ sprays improperly applied. The insecticide misuses are making rice fields vulnerable to planthopper outbreaks. Factors contributing to misuse include the lack of knowledge among farmers, but the root cause is the poor marketing regulations in Asian countries that have allowed pesticides to be sold as FMCGs (Fast Moving Consumer Goods), like soap, shampoo, soft drinks and candies.
The chart above shows that planthopper outbreaks that affected rice production and farmers’ livelihoods and health are caused by insecticide misuse and overuse. These are in turn caused by root causes, particularly inadequate marketing regulations (house with no roof). An immediate action that authorities can take is to ban products that can cause such outbreaks, like in Thailand. Such immediate actions maybe effective in the short term but may not be sustainable in the longer term. The longer term actions needed are policy changes, new regulations and laws and structural reforms in the roles of plant protection services, from traditional extension to regulatory should be seriously considered by authorities. A fine example of policy change and new regulations is the case in Vietnam where a new circular on pesticide marketing and distribution will be implemented in 2012. As Vietnam’s rice production continues to prosper and quite likely to become #1 rice exporter surpassing Thailand this year such new regulations will help protect the gains in rice production as well as farmers’ health and livelihoods. Sri Lanka is also in the process of seeking new laws to curb pesticide sales.
From the supply chain study conducted in 8 ASEAN countries recently, it has become obvious that the local untrained retailers in villages have become farmers’ main pest management information sources. Government extension has become a minor player in pest management advisory in most cases. In order to ensure that high quality of advice reaches the farmers, the functions and roles of government extension may now need to the re examined and restructured to provide the regulatory roles, not only in products but also in the information supply and advice reaching farmers. In the future the pesticide retailers and pest control practitioners will need to be trained, qualified, certified and licensed, just like in the medical profession where doctors and pharmacists are licensed to practice and sell medicine. The new pesticide laws in Sri Lanka have provisions to register those involved in pesticide sales. Those registered as Agrochemical Sales and Technical Assistants will need to complete a training course on agrochemical use and related matters to the required levels set up in the National Vocational Qualification System. Registrations are granted for three years and need to be renewed.