Manit Luecha, former Director, Chainat Rice Seed Center, Chainat, Thailand,
Tiwaporn Sutthiwongse, Director of Evaluation, Office of Agricultural Economics, Thailand and
Monina Escalada, University Professor, Visayas State University, Baybay, Leyte, Philippines
Planthopper outbreaks in Central Thailand have been threatening rice production in Central Thailand for the last 10 seasons. The direct damages and the virus infections that follow have destroyed about 2 million hectares of paddy. Thousands of farmers have been affected by this insecticide-induced pest problem and attempts to solve this “wicked problem” the Rice Department established the BPH management policy engagement working group to initiate socioeconomic impact assessments of the outbreaks. This study to address the social impacts of pest outbreaks on rice farmers is probably one of first attempts to better understand the social implications of losses from pests on the rice farming communities.
In June 2011 the Rice Department working with TABA (Thai Agro Business Association) launched a media campaign to stop the use of cyermethrin and abamectin in rice as they cause BPH resurgences. In an international panel held in June, the majority of the participants agreed that BPH problems are insecticide induced and called for immediate actions to control insecticides being marketed as FMCGs (fast moving consumer goods). The Action Plan developed by IRRI in September 2011 was recently presented to Senior Officials of Ministries of Agriculture of the ASEAN.
In a focus group discussion with 120 farmers in Central Thailand conducted in July 2012, most farmers interviewed had BPH outbreaks in the last 2 years and had lost an average of 2.8 t/ha paddy. Many had remained in debt especially to the local pesticide shops from the insecticides they obtained on credit. Since productivity gains from prophylactic insecticide applications are doubtful, these applications can increase the vulnerability of their rice crops to BPH outbreaks by 10 folds.
In October 2012, a survey in 3 provinces, Chainat, Suphan Buri and Ang Thong, of 300 farmers began. Led by Khun Tiwaporn of the Office of Agricultural Economics (OAE), the survey will look into details about the planthopper outbreaks – occurrence, perceived causes, magnitude of losses from the worst BPH outbreaks and value of crop damages. More importantly, it will explore farmers’ coping mechanisms or adaptation response to outbreaks and their household adjustments to cope with crop losses.
Adaptation strategies after the BPH outbreak could range from replanting their rice farm, planting ahead of their neighbors, planting synchronously with other farmers, pursuing other income sources, and planting a different variety, to borrowing money to pay off debts. Specific household adjustments done to cope with crop losses might include: reduced meat consumption, bought fewer goods, reduced trips to the market, stopped buying clothes, stopped recreational activities, reduced electricity consumption, reduced TV viewing hours, fishing in nearby river for food or grow vegetables in the garden.