K.L. Heong, Joy Hasmin De los Reyes, International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines and
Larry Wong, Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
In the last 6 years, rice production in several countries in Asia has been threatened by persistent outbreaks of rice planthoppers, mainly the brown planthopper (BPH) and the white back planthopper (WBPH). In China each year about a million tons of rice is lost. Vietnam in 2007 lost about a million tons and the government stopped exports. Thailand has been experiencing outbreaks for 14 consecutive seasons in the central plains and Indonesia lost more than a million tons from the outbreaks. Relatively unimportant pests the planthoppers have turned out to the most damaging biotic stress that is threatening the sustainability of intensive rice systems today. In the first Green Revolution of the 1970s and 1980s, the BPH was the main pest threat that was brought about by routine and excessive use of fertilizer and insecticides introduced with the new high yielding varieties by governments and development agencies that subsidized the inputs. Planthopper problems are once again major threats despite World Bank and FAO sponsored farmer IPM training programs (see Conway 2012) that started in the 1990s. More than 2 million rice farmers had undergone the season long training to be sufficiently knowledgeable to make informed decisions and avoid prophylactic insecticide spraying and misuse. It is now widely accepted that planthopper pests are insecticide induced (Heong and Schoenly 1998, Bottrell and Schoenly 2012) and rice intensification is most cases DO NOT need any insecticides (Way and Heong, 1994, FAO, 2011). Planthopper outbreaks are not just pest problems but symptoms of ecosystem breakdown (Heong 2009) caused by insecticide misuse and overuse. But what are the root causes or driving forces that have once again caused the increase in insecticide misuse? In August 2012, the ADB published a Working Paper entitled “Addressing Planthopper Threats to Asian Rice farming and Food Security: Fixing Insecticide Misuse” calling for structural reforms in plant protection services and to professionalize plant protection in Asia.
In Indonesia when the insecticide subsidies were withdrawn in the mid 1980s BPH outbreaks were reduced. However from 1990, insecticide imports into Indonesia have increased markedly. Between 1990 and 2012 insecticide imports in US$ into Indonesia increased 58.2 folds (5824%) from US$ 1.19 million to US$ 70.5 million while over the same period the net agricultural production index (PIN) increased only 1 fold (93 %) (FAOSTAT 2013). Rice yields increased 16.5% from 4.3 to 5.0 t/ha and total rice production increased by 47%. Similar patterns of increases in insecticide imports are also observed in all the ASEAN countries, India and Bangladesh. Such disproportional increases in insecticide use strongly suggests that farmers’ insecticide use is not due to increased pest threats but due to the weak pesticide marketing regulations that allow pesticides (which are poisons) to be sold as (FMCG) fast moving consumer goods, alongside with toothpastes, coffee, sweets and vegetables. Untrained pesticide dealers in the village grocery stores, driven by sales incentives provided by the companies often act as the de facto pest control advisors enticing farmers to buy insecticides with a variety of gifts. Such practices not only violate the FAO code of conduct on pesticide distribution and marketing, they also “wash away” all sustainable approaches that have introduced, such as resistant varieties and IPM.
The DPSIR (Driving force, Pressure, State, Impact, Response) framework commonly used in address environmental problems and applied in the LEGATO project can be usefully applied in this case. The planthopper outbreaks are caused by insecticide misuses and they impact rice production, exports and threaten food security. The normal responses had been directed only at the causes, such as banning insecticides, training farmers and releasing new varieties. However these responses are not sustainable as they do not fix the root causes, which include the poorly regulated pesticide market, pesticides being sold as FMCGs and farmers depending on untrained pesticide dealers in local grocery stores for advice. In order to solve the planthopper outbreak problems and develop sustainable pest management programs there is need to fix the root causes and these will include revising and implementing pesticide marketing laws, reclassifying pesticides from consumer goods to “poisons” and train, certify and license pesticide retailers and pest control advisors just as in the pharmaceutical and the medical professions. Ecological engineering can be an important enabler towards “sensible” use of insecticides, as nectar rich flowering plants can significantly increase in hymenopteran species, like bees and parasitoids. Being highly visible to farmers, they are important motivations for farmers to withhold unnecessary spraying to conserve these “bees and small bees” (or parasitism) as in Vietnam.
Rice farmers have little or no productivity gains from insecticide use and in most cases when labor and health costs are factored in productivity is negative. Farms that spray in the early season for leaf folders, which have negligible effects on yield, are often 10 times more vulnerable to BPH outbreaks. FAO’s new paradigm in the sustainable intensification program, Save and Grow, states that “Most tropical rice crops under intensification require NO insecticide use”.
Often obstacles to adopting a sustainable pathway are political and behavioral inertia (World Bank 2012) and to avoid being “locked” into unsustainable paths there is need to focus on establishing a new path in the next 5 to 10 years. Sustainable plant protection research and services in Asia need to take a new path. Otherwise introduction of any new scientifically developed technology, like resistant varieties, IPM, ecological engineering and cultural methods as well as training programs for farmers, technicians and professionals will continue to be “washed away”.
Bottrell and Schoenly 2012. Resurrecting the ghost of green revolutions past: The brown planthopper as a recurring threat to high-yielding rice production in tropical Asia. Journal of Asia-Pacific Entomology 15, 122–140 (pdf)
Conway, G. 2012. One Billion Hungry – Can we feed the world? Cornell University Press, NY.
FAO 2011. Save and Grow – A policymaker’s guide to the sustainable intensification of smallholder crop production. FAO Rome, Italy. (pdf)
FAOSTAT 2013. http://faostat.fao.org/site/339/default.aspx accessed October 9 2013.
Heong, K.L. 2009. Are planthopper problems caused by a breakdown in ecosystem service? Pp 221 – 232. In Heong, K.L. and Hardy, B. (eds.) Planthoppers – New threats to the sustainability of intensive rice production systems in Asia. International Rice Research Institute, Los Banos, Philippines. (pdf)
Heong, K.L. and Schoenly, K.G. 1998. Impact of insecticides on herbivore-natural enemy communities in tropical rice ecosystems. Pp 381-403 ( P. T. Haskell and P. McEwen Eds.) Ecotoxicology: Pesticides and Beneficial Organisms. Chapman and Hall, London. (pdf)
Way, M.J. and Heong, K.L. 1994. The role of biodiversity in the dynamics and management of insect pests of tropical irrigated rice – A review. Bulletin of Entomological Research, 84, 567-587. (pdf)
World Bank. 2012. Inclusive Green Growth – The Pathway to Sustainable Development. Washington DC. (pdf)