Kukiat Soitong, Rice Department, Bangkhen Thailand, Larry Wong, Institute for Strategic And International Studies (ISIS), Malaysia, and K.L. Heong, International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines
The brown planthopper (BPH) problem in Thailand that began in 2008 continues to threaten rice production and farmers’ livelihoods. About 2 million tons of paddy have been destroyed, hundreds of farmers have suffered crop failures, tons of insecticides have been poured into rice ecosystems and government has spent millions in compensations and pesticide subsidies. In the first 3 months of 2012 more than 300,000 hectares were reported destroyed and BPH outbreaks are beginning to intensify as the most recent outbreaks are beginning to develop in the Northeast province of Nakhon Ratchasima and potentially can become serious in July/August.
BPH outbreaks are induced by insecticide misuse caused by weak pesticide marketing regulations that allow pesticides to be sold as FMCG (fast moving consumer goods). There are four main groups of stakeholders involved in pesticide marketing, distribution and rice production research and development. They are the Rice Department (research and development), Department of Agriculture (Pesticide regulations), Department of Agricultural Extension (Extension, communication and training) and the pesticide industry (marketing and distribution). The Thai Agro Business Association (TABA) represents some of the companies. Today there are thousands of pesticide retailers with inadequate qualifications to handle and advice on pesticide usage but they have become rice farmers’ main advisors and suppliers of both pesticides and information. In fact some farmers refer to the village pesticide retailers as “doctors” they rely on for pest and disease problems. Pesticide advertising is also poorly regulated and often violates the FAO Code of Conduct for Pesticide Marketing and Distribution. The situation that is promoting misuse is like a “house with no roof” (where ecologically-sound pest management methods are constantly being “washed” away and difficult to sustain.
At the same time the main stakeholders continue to drift apart in developing management strategies. Research pursue gene discovery for new genes (there are now more than 33 BPH resistant genes ), plant breeders develop new varieties, researchers develop new ecological based approaches such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and ecological engineering, extension train thousands of farmers in IPM skills and the pesticide industry strives to promote and increase their pesticide sales. Meanwhile farmers continue to apply wrong insecticides at the wrong times and suffer crop failures from BPH outbreaks and the nation continues to lose rice production and exports and pesticide marketing becoming more inefficient that can lead to market failures. Some policy economists label such complex problems as “wicked problems” and require a different approach to find collective policies, decisions and actions.
On May 15 – 16 2012, representatives from the four main stakeholders gathered in the wicked problem workshop in Bangkok jointly organized by IRRI and the Rice Department to develop new steps to facilitate policy engagements. In declaring open the workshop the Director General of Rice Department emphasized the importance of working together towards a sustainable strategy to reduce the BPH outbreaks. A web-based software to develop the IBIS (Issue based information system) to form the core database of the engagement was introduced. Participants reached a general consensus that the persistent BPH outbreaks have become a national problem affecting the whole rice supply chain, including social and health problems. The BPH Management Policy Engagement (BMPE) Working Group was established at the workshop. The first task of the Working Group is to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the social and economic impact of the BPH outbreaks on Thai economy and society. The supply chain framework was used to consider the variables pertinent to the assessment, including economic, social and health costs.