K.L. Heong, International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines
The producer of “Hopper Race”, a documentary film about the rice planthopper problems in Asia, Ms Juka Kawaai, of TV Environment Japan, received the prestigious Matsukawa Award for Best Short Documentary in the Yufuincho Film Festival, one of the oldest film festival in Japan. The film produced in collaboration with IRRI and ADB captures not only the scientific elements why rice planthopper outbreaks occur but the human aspects of the pest outbreaks.
Planthopper problems in Asia not only threaten rice production, they cause miseries to farmers. Some plunge into poverty after losing crops in succession and unable to finance their debts to the pesticide companies. Some had even resorted to suicide because of the miseries the pest had caused. Today planthoppers are the most threatening pests to the sustainability of rice production in Asia and yet these problems are completely man-made as the pests are induced by insecticides. In just 2 or 3 months, freed from natural control mechanisms, the planthoppers can increase exponentially as much as 100,000 folds and destroy crops. The documentary film, “Hopper Race”. In her film, Ms Kawaai narrates the stories from the planthoppers’ perspectives and the huge tool the pest outbreaks have on farmers. One of the highlights of the film was an interview with a woman who had lost her husband as he had committed suicide after losing several successive crops and owing the pesticide shop thousands of baht from the insecticides he had taken out on credit.
Ms Juka Kawaai spent about 3 years, filming in Vietnam, Thailand, China and the Philippines to put together a touching story. She has simplified the ecological principles into a language that will target non scientists, provided footages of natural enemies eating planthoppers to keep them under control and the impact of insecticides on these naturally occurring forces. In addition she has captured the human dimension of how rice farmers are trapped in a vicious cycle. Unable to have alternate income sources farmers had learned to make sacrifices in house expenses and cope with the losses and threats.
The documentary prepared in English has been 8 Asian languages translated into 8 Asian languages (Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Japanese, Lao, Khamer, Indi and Burmese) for local distribution and broadcast. In April 2013, Television Vietnam broadcast the film nationwide in Vietnamese nationwide and in May it was broadcast over Cambodian TV. The trailer of the film is available on YouTube .