In a bid to clamp down on aggressive marketing of insecticides and encourage correct use, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has launched an action plan, which it hopes will stabilise rice production.
Dr Bas Bouman, head of the Crop and Environmental Sciences Division at IRRI, told FoodNavigator-Asia that government and enterprise sectors involved need to ensure more insecticide market regulation throughout Asia.
“Our experts are convinced that one of the main drivers, although not the only one, behind planthopper problems is the increased overuse and misuse of insecticides. Farmers are using the wrong type, at the wrong moment, for the wrong pests,” Bouman said.
Planthoppers are insects that plague Asian rice crops, feeding on them and spreading disease among the region’s primary staple food.
Excessive fertiliser use and high cropping intensity are other causes of planthopper outbreaks as the crops are more widely available and nutritious for the pests.
Dr KL Heong, insect ecologist at IRRI, said that the infestations are induced by the use of sprays that destroy spiders and parasites that provide the checks and balances to keep planthopper numbers stable.
“Planthopper infestations are a large problem and it is threatening many of the intense rice growing regions, such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and China,” he added.
Unregulated, aggressive insecticide marketing
Heong blamed the government for allowing suppliers to work in unregulated markets, and said farmers are not to blame; they are merely “victims of the circumstances that surround them.”
‘Buy-one-get-one-free’ offers are encouraging farmers to purchase insecticides, he said, and small retailers are stocking these products alongside regular consumer supplies such as vegetables and rice as, “they are classified as fast moving consumer goods (FMCGs)”.
In Europe there are regulatory processes for the marketing of insecticide and companies also need to be licensed to sell the products, Heong said, however these regulations are either weak or not present in the developing world, hence pesticides being available in consumer retail outlets like supermarkets.
Bouman added that IRRI is looking into the licensing of dealers because “in most countries they are not licensed, not trained and can’t give advice to farmers.”
Bouman said that IRRI has engaged in talks with the big names in the insecticide manufacturing industry about taking corporate responsibility for the impact aggressive marketing is having on farming.
The larger companies are willing but concerned about losing their competitive edge and market share, by smaller, less scrupulous players under-cutting them.
Government and industry joint force
At a recent conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, IRRI brought together key industry thinkers from the private sectors and government to encourage involvement and intervention on the issue.
So far, there has been a very positive response from Vietnam and Thailand, Heong said, with the Thai Agribusiness Association funding a campaign to ban certain insecticides and Vietnam introducing a law in March to regulate pesticide marketing to prevent excessive advertising.
“Governments are realising that it is not only a health and environmental problem, but that it is also impacting on rice production,” he added.
According to IRRI research, 2005 saw 2.8 million tonnes of rice in China damaged and numerous outbreaks in Japan and Korea in 2005 and 2006.
Outbreaks were rife in 2009 across Thailand, the southern provinces of China, northern Vietnam and Indonesia. Between 2009 and 2011 more than 3m hectares in Thailand were infested, with losses in excess of 1.1m tonnes of paddy rice with an export value of US$275m.
IRRI’s action plan also focuses on enhancing biodiversity, Heong said, encouraging farmers to grow nectar flowers to attract bees.
“We are using bees as a proxy, because if farmers can see the bees they know that many other important insects are present,” he said.
These biodiversity plans have been implemented in Vietnam, Thailand and small areas in China. In Vietnam, local governments are giving out flower seeds to rice farmers and in Thailand they are running campaigns to promote growing flowers.