Monina Escalada, Visayas State University, Baybay, Leyte, Philippines,
Tiwaporn Sutthiwongse, Director of Evaluation, Office of Agricultural Economics, Thailand
Manit Luecha, former Director, Chainat Rice Seed Center, Chainat, Thailand, and
K.L. Heong, International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philipines
From a series of focus group discussions with farmers to understand how they had to cope with crop losses from planthopper outbreaks, we developed a questionnaire, had it pretested and conducted a survey in Central Thailand in October 2012. A total of 610 respondent farmers from 3 provinces, Chainat, Ang Thong and Suphan Buri were interviewed by 5 trained interviewers led by Khun Tiwaporn. Planthopper outbreaks started in 2007 and in the last 4 years, all the farmers interviewed had had at least one outbreak. Most of the outbreaks occurred in 2009 (47%) and 2010 (38%). About 32% of the farmers had 2 crop losses, 14% had 3, 4% had 4 and 13% had 5 crop losses. In 2009, farmers lost on average about 3.8 t/ha due to damages by planthoppers. Losses were higher in Ang Thong and Suphan Buri, 4.3 t/ha while farmers in Chainat suffered losses of 3.5 t/ha.
We compared their pesticide use before the outbreaks became intense in 2009 and in2012 during the interview and found that the average number of pesticide applications in 2009 was 4.4. In 2012, farmers had significantly reduced their sprays by 19.2% to 3.5 sprays per season (t = 7.5 p <0.001) . Insecticides were often applied as cocktails mixed with other insecticides, fungicides or herbicides or all three. We found that sprays that contained at least one insecticide was about 2.1 before the outbreaks occurred. Farmers had reduced sprays with insecticides in them by 38% to 1.3 sprays per farmer. Farmers had also changed rice varieties to mainly RD 31 (46%), RD 41 (13%) and RD 47 (20%). Only 10% of the farmers still grow Pathum Tani 1 that had dominated Central Thailand rice before the outbreaks started. We asked farmers how they had coped with the crop and financial losses incurred. Most farmers adopted an optimistic attitude that their next crop will not suffer loss (69%). To reduce the financial burden farmers had adopted one or more strategies such as taking loans from the farmers’ bank (64%), delayed their payments by installment to the pesticide suppliers (31%), cut their household expenses (37%) and took other jobs (29%). The household adjustments farmers had to make included growing vegetables in the garden instead of buying (69%), fishing from the river (56%), buying fewer goods (35%), reducing market trips (22%) and stopped buying new clothes (19%). Farmers felt depressed (68%) and worried (73%) and about 25% stopped cultivating rice. When asked what they thought were the main reasons for the outbreaks farmers provided several: 57% of the farmers thought that strong winds had brought the hoppers; 47% believed that they had grown the same variety (Pathum Tani 1) for too long; 39% thought that the varieties used had grown susceptible and 13% thought that they had sprayed too much insecticides. This probably accounted for the change in varieties and reduction in insecticide sprays.
We asked farmers what adjustments would they make to their rice growing practices and most (75%) said that they would plant synchronously with other farmers. Some said that they would reduce insecticide use (22%) and fertilizer use (15%) while about 33% said that they would diversify their income base. Farmers like Mr Vichian who had adopted “3 reductions” practices were less vulnerable to hopper burn.