Rice planthoppers are outbreak pests. Between 2004 and 2009, several Asian countries suffered heavy losses due to planthopper outbreaks and the virus diseases the insects carry. China’s persistent planthopper problems cause a yearly loss of about 1 million tons of rice. Because of slightly elevated summer temperatures in 2005, a loss of about 2.8 million tons was recorded. In 2006, rice exports in Vietnam were halted because of planthopper outbreaks that caused a loss of about 400,000 tons. Simultaneous outbreaks occurred recently in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Yunnan, China.
Most tropical rice ecosystems are endowed with rich biodiversity, which helps provide vital biological control services. Highly intensive production systems, however, harm the rich habitat biodiversity and, coupled with heavy chemical inputs, compromise ecosystem services and thus make rice production systems vulnerable to invading pests such as planthoppers and leaffolders. These pests were already threats to rice production during Asia’s Green Revolution, when routine insecticide applications were packaged into rice intensification programs. The recent outbreaks are probably also caused by heavy chemical input regimes, a practice that weakens “system resistance” to the invading insects.
In April 2008, as a response to the rice crisis, the ADB and IRRI initiated the Rice Planthopper Project under the 13th Regional Technical Assistance (RETA) program. The goal was to develop sustainable means to reduce crop vulnerability to preharvest losses due to planthopper outbreaks. The Project was approved in October 2008.
The project aims to develop durably resistant varieties and new field resistance evaluation methods, strategies for the management of virus diseases carried by planthoppers, use ecological engineering to develop biodiversity-based pest control and to identify key indicators of this ecosystem service, understand farmers’ decision-making process, develop communication strategies, and initiate policy dialogues to upscale ecological practices, and enhance capacities of national systems in research, communications, and extension.
Ricehoppers is the site of the Rice Planthopper Project, a collaborative research network with national scientists in Asia co-funded by IRRI and ADB. It aims to provide a platform for knowledge sharing on issues and develop sustainable ways to manage rice planthopper problems.
K.L. Heong, a Principal Scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), conducts research in the areas of insect ecology, sociology of farmers’ decision making, design and implementation of communication strategies and entertainment-education. He holds a PhD and a DSc from Imperial College, London. His research in pest ecology has shown that rice systems have inherently high fauna biodiversity that provide vital ecosystem services to protect crop yields. However farmers, often due to motivation by the private and public sector to apply insecticides at first sight of insect damage, spray their crops unnecessarily. These actions often bring about no economic gains and instead do more harm by reducing the ecosystem services thus making their fields vulnerable to pest invasions. Working with a social scientist, he applied social psychology into his work to communicate integrated pest management (IPM) principles in simple ways to rural farmers. His trans-disciplinary research has contributed towards significant changes in rice farmers’ attitudes and practices in plant protection in many countries. In Vietnam his work contributed to farmers’ insecticide reduction by 53% in several provinces in the Mekong Delta and similar pesticide reductions were recorded in his work extended to Central Thailand and Northern Vietnam. The “Three Reductions, Three Gains” program he helped initiate in Vietnam is now widely implemented in Vietnam and the radio soap opera series of 135 episodes reached more than 2 million farmers in the Mekong Delta.
His projects have gained international recognition. Among them are: the St Andrews Prize for Environment, the World Bank Development Marketplace Award, the COM+ Communications Award and Vietnam’s Golden Rice Award. He has been personally recognized by the US Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST)’s Charles Black Award for exemplary contributions to public understanding of food and agricultural science, the Malaysian Plant Protection Society (MAPPS)’s Excellence Award, the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) Prize for Agriculture and two Gold Medals for Agricultural Development and Scientific contributions. He has been elected fellow to the Malaysian Academy of Science and the Third World Academy of Science and has authored more than 150 scientific papers, 6 books and 2 CD packages.
Il-Ryong Choi is a plant virologist specializing in the gene functions in relation to virus-plant interactions. Since 2001 he has been working at IRRI on various aspects of rice tungro, grassy stunt, ragged stunt and stripe viruses, which are prevalent in tropical and temperate Asia regions. His current research interest includes molecular genetics of virus resistance in rice, genetic and biological diversity of rice viruses, and virus-insect vector interactions. Before joining IRRI, he conducted research on molecular genetics of viruses infecting plants such as sugar beet, tomato and wheat at universities, and private and government organizations in the USA and Canada. His works on the regulation of virus gene expression published in various scientific journals have been frequently cited by researchers working on viruses of various crops.
Geoff Gurr is Professor of Applied Ecology at Charles Sturt University in Australia. His group has pioneered the development of ecological engineering for pest management – an approach that aims to work with nature, using ecological knowledge to boost biological control and suppress pests. Ecological engineering research – the topic of his 2004 book with Steve Wratten and Miguel Altieri – has spanned potatoes, vineyards, field crops, pasture systems and most recently agroforestry and rice. Results have led to invitations to visit overseas groups in Europe, the USA, Asia and New Zealand as well as to present papers at various major conferences. He has edited two books, and written 21 book chapters and over 80 refereed articles. Publications include two papers in the high impact journal, Annual Review of Entomology. He is an invited member of the editorial boards of five journals, and is a regular reviewer of manuscripts for many journals.
Finbarr Horgan is an insect community and population ecologist interested host plant resistance. Between 1994 and 2002 he lectured at the National University of El Salvador and the National University of Central Peru where his research focused mainly on insect conservation, ecosystem function, and the relations between specific trades and the spread of invasive insect species. Finbarr also conducted research in association with the International Potato Centre (CIP – Lima, Peru [2000-2004]) on potato resistance to tuber moth – a considerable pest of stored potatoes in the Andes. That work led to improved methods for resistance screening and highlighted possible pitfalls incurred during potato phenotyping. More recently he was a Research Officer at Teagasc – the Irish Agricultural Development Authority, where he conducted work on invasive species associated with the horticulture industry and eucalypt resistance to paropsid beetles. Currently, based at IRRI, he is focusing on optimizing the deployment of resistant rice varieties for the sustainable management of insect pests, including rice hoppers. This work entails improvement of screening methods for variety development, elucidation of resistance mechanisms, determination of the causes of resistance breakdown, and understanding the genetic structure of hopper populations.
Monina Escalada is university professor of development communication at the Visayas State University, Leyte, Philippines. As a communication scientist, she has published several books and many peer reviewed papers and had been awarded the “Article of the Year Award” by the Journal of Applied Communications in 1997. Her work has won several prestigious international awards including the 2007 COM+ Communication Award for communicating science for people and the planet, the World Bank Development Marketplace Award 2005, St. Andrews Prize for Environment 2002, Vietnam’s Golden Rice Award in 2002 and 2003. For her outstanding contributions to Vietnam, she was personally awarded by the Vietnam government a Medal for Agricultural Development in 2001.
She has extensive experience working with national agricultural research systems (NARS) partners in multi-stakeholder partnerships and capacity building in participatory development, monitoring and evaluation of scaling up initiatives in resource management. Dr. Escalada has served on the FAO Panel of Experts on Integrated Pest Control from 1991-1995 and the Center-Commissioned External Review (CCER) panel of the “Biodiversity for Livelihoods” program of Bioversity International (formerly the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute) in 2006. She has been communication consultant to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Bioversity International, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the Asian Productivity Organization. In the past 20 years, her research has focused on understanding farmers’ pest management decisions and practices, developing strategies in communicating to farmers and developing education-entertainment approaches.
A retired professor, who is still active in research related to insect physiology, toxicology, pest surveillance and management, and chemical ecology. K. H Tan has published 65 refereed journal papers and more than 80 scientific articles in books, conferences and proceedings. Working in collaboration with a chemist (R. Nishida), they solved one of the long standing (~80 years) “great mysteries of tephritid biology” (Cunningham, 1989), of why males of Bactrocera fruit flies are so strongly attracted to methyl eugenol. They also answered Scientific American’s question, “Why do flowers have scents?” (July, 2005 p80) and were the first to show evidence and identify the actual chemical component in a floral fragrance that is responsible for attracting as well as acting as the floral reward for specific pollinators to the respective orchid species. This area of research has been used as reference and teaching materials in several top world class universities, including Harvard University. As a result, the Hawaiians are organising for 2009 a symposium entitled “Fruit fly chemical ecology from basic to applied” to honour K.H. Tan’s contributions.
Since his professorial retirement, he has acted as a) the fourth president of the Asia-Pacific Association of Chemical Ecologists; b)an international adviser to the Hawaii Area-Wide Fruit Fly Integrated Pest Management, USDA, Hawaii, as well as to the Research Institute for Subtropics, Okinawa, Japan; c) a consultant to the Joint FAO/IAEA Division, IAEA, Vienna; and d) a member of the Foreign Advisory Board, APACE Conference 2007 Tsukuba Committee, Japan. Currently, he serves as a member in i) the Fruit fly Technical Panel of the International Plant Protection Commission, FAO; ii) the Bactrocera Science Advisory Panel, California Department of Food and Agriculture; as well as a reviewer for several internationally reputed journals. He is currently conducting research related mainly to pollination biology – co-evolution between Bactrocera fruit flies and Bulbophyllum orchids.
Credit: Header design by Lauro Atienza (International Rice Research Institute)