LIM Guan Soon
CABI-South East Asia Regional Centre,
P.O.Box 210, 43409 UPM, Serdang, Malaysia
A sound curriculum in plant pest management is necessary to produce quality human resource needed for effective implementation of pest management activities. For the Bachelor degree, the curriculum should aim at providing a general and basic plant pest management education with expertise to handle a general range of roles that can fit in with most plant protection functions (extension, research, the agricultural industry, etc). However, at the higher degree levels, there will be need for more in-depth and specialised training and also a wider coverage of subjects.
The bulk of the curriculum should comprise of basic/core subjects to provide the basic foundation in plant protection within the agricultural science. Among these, IPM warrants a comprehensive treatment as the central theme in plant pest management. The newer approach of farmer participatory training and research should receive key consideration. Besides the core subjects, other current and general issues (e.g. globalisation, free trade, etc) that can affect plant pest management must also be included. Incorporating practical farm training (20–30%) would enable trainees to better handle the problems normally encountered by growers. Trainees also need to undertake a project assignment resulting in a dissertation.
Presently, there exists great variations in the pest management curricula in the Asia-Pacific region and there is need to harmonize them because of many potential benefits. Initially, only important subjects common to all the Bachelor degree curricula for pest management in the different countries need be retained. To these should be added other new and common aspects to form the core curriculum. Specific aspects peculiar for a particular country can then be included to this core curriculum to form the overall (combined) curriculum to be used in the country concerned. From time to time, the curriculum will need to be improved/revised to include future developments. Further regional consultations may be needed for this and to maintain a harmonized plant pest management curriculum.
Agriculture plays an important role in most developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region. In crop production, the management of pests (broadly defined to include all agents, such as insects, diseases, weeds, rodents, etc) forms a crucial aspect that demands special attention. Among the control tactics used, pesticides have taken a frontline in many countries in the region during the recent decades. This has resulted in a number of serious and undesirable problems, giving rise to concerns over many issues relating to pesticides and their adverse affects on pest ecology, the environment and human health. It has also propelled the development and acceptance of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as an alternative option in pest management for the region. IPM has thus become an important approach and is central to the practice of plant pest management.
For successful development, promotion and effective implementation of plant pest programmes, in particular IPM, a number of attributes must be in place, viz: existence of a good and positive policy support, appropriate infrastructure in plant protection institutions, relevant research programmes, good extension support and adequate human resource capacity. For the latter, having a sound curriculum is especially important since it will determine the quality of the human resource responsible for implementing the plant pest management activities. Consequently, it will also influence the success potential of any plant pest management programmes that a particular country plans to implement. Thus, developing a sound curriculum becomes crucial in any human resource development programme for plant pest management. This paper focuses on the guiding principles in formulating the plant pest management curriculum for university and related institute education which, hopefully, will stimulate future development towards a plant pest curriculum that is broadly acceptable and appropriate for the Asia-Pacific region.
FUNDAMENTALS OF THE CURRICULUM
What would constitute the contents in a plant pest management curriculum is largely governed by a number of considerations, such as:
The focus here will largely target plant pest management curriculum for university level education. It aims at providing a general and basic plant pest education with expertise to handle a general range of roles that can fit in with most plant protection functions, such as, extension, research, the agricultural industry, etc. Essentially, the training will be equivalent to the level of a basic or Bachelor degree. Thus, it will not provide the specialization needed for more specific roles, where follow-up and more specialized training will be required by way of higher degrees or specialized courses.
The curriculum would focus mainly on the fundamental aspects that serve to provide a sound foundation in plant pest management to the trainees. It is recognized that many other aspects will need to be added to cater for specific needs of different locations or regions. However, the guiding principles suggested below will provide for only the core or basic curriculum. Only crucial and essential aspects are considered and they constitute the fundamentals that must at least be included in all plant pest management curricula. Together, these aspects will form the core curriculum that provides a sound foundation for graduates to perform or pursue further their respective areas of interest relating to plant pest management. The following are key subject matters that the curriculum should consider for incorporation:
1. Basics of the following subjects
1.1.1 Agriculture Zoology
1.1.2 General Botany
1.1.3 Agriculture Economics
1.1.4 Entomology (including mites and other arthropods)
1.1.5 Plant Pathology (including nematodes and other microbes)
1.1.6 Weed Science
1.1.7 Vertebrate Pests
1.1.8 General Crop Production/Agronomy
A sound knowledge in the above basic aspects is desirable as they provide the broad-based understanding in support of plant pest management. A good foundation in these aspects is essential for developing the needed expertise required, as well as for any further specialisation needed subsequently.
2. Principles of ecology
1.1.1 Insect Population Dynamics
1.1.2 Epidemiology of Plant Diseases
1.1.3 Weed Ecology
Maintaining appropriate ecological balance of plant-pest-natural control is the key to a sound pest management programme. Failing to appreciate this has resulted mainly in short-term management measures which in turn have led to most of the pest problems continuing to remain so, sometimes even becoming worse. There is therefore no sustainable and long-term impact/benefits being achieved. Incorporating this aspect into the curriculum to ensure that the principles of ecology are well understood is therefore crucial.
3. Ecological methods, diagnostic procedures and pest identification
Accurate assessment methods are necessary to determine the situation of a pest and its natural control in the field, particularly in ecological studies and other scientific experiments and investigations. Sometimes, they are also needed during pest outbreaks to assist decision-making in management operations. Many methods have been developed for different pests and for different crop ecosystems and conditions. These include procedures on both absolute and relative estimates. Examples include visual assessments, sampling with various kinds of traps (aerial suction trap, sticky trap, pitfall trap, others), marked-recapture technique (painting, clipping, others), sweep net, heat extractor, etc. All these should form an important part of the plant pest management curriculum so that course participants can become familiar with the methods and are able to deploy them when required, including analysis of the sampled data. To do this effectively, they should also be sufficiently familiar with basic diagnostic procedures and be able to identify the pests and other associated organisms.
4. Plant breeding and genetics
Plant resistance constitutes an important means of plant pest management. A basic understanding of plant breeding and genetics therefore can help in a fuller appreciation towards the use of plant resistance approach in managing pests, including how it may be integrated with other control methods.
5. Chemical pesticides and related issues
Because of the heavy reliance and excessive use (including misuse) of chemical pesticides, many undesirable and associated problems have now been encountered. It is crucial that those involved with plant pest management must become fully aware of these problems and the related issues so that they can help to deal with them accordingly, either in avoiding or minimizing their negative impacts wherever possible. Some general issues that they need to know would include at least the history on the development and use of pesticides, pesticide toxicology and related health hazards, and the ecological and environmental impacts, including their concerns and management. More specific aspects for inclusion, among others, are the types and nature of pesticides (including their modes of action, toxicity pathways, etc); pesticide evaluation and other bioassay techniques; resistance mechanisms and development; effects/impacts of pesticides on natural enemies; pesticide application technology; and pesticide regulations and the registration requirements.
6. Methods of pest control
Different approaches or control tactics are available for combating the wide range of crop pests. The major ones include biological control and other bio-based products, plant resistance, cultural practices, physical/mechanical means, chemical control, and various traditional methods. Knowing these and how they function will help in making the appropriate tactical choices for formulating the required pest management strategy for a particular situation. That course participants must know about the different approaches or tactics cannot be over-emphasized. These aspects, therefore, must form an important part of the plant pest management curriculum.
7. Plant Quarantine
Quarantine forms the frontline in plant pest management, particularly in preventing unwanted entry of a new pest organism. Understanding how quarantine operates, including the various quarantine rules and regulations, the quarantine procedures, pest risks assessment, and other related quarantine matters, is thus an important requirement. This need has become even more important in recent years and is likely to increase in the future. The main reason for this is because the risk from accidental introduction of an exotic pest has increased significantly, due mainly to more rapid and frequent inter-country movements of people and materials as a result of increased tourism and more trading activities. The latter is largely due to globalization in trade arising from agreements under the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA). The plant pest management curriculum cannot ignore these issues and must therefore include the aspect of plant quarantine.
8. Principles/methods of pest surveillance and forecasting
Pest surveillance and forecasting have form part of plant pest management in many countries of the region. A variety of methods and devices are being used, such as, visual assessment methods, using spore trap for fungal agents, setting up pheromone and light traps for some insects, etc. Those involved with plant pest management therefore should be knowledgeable in the principles and methods of pest surveillance and forecasting, including their operations, data gathering and data analysis. Hence, these aspects need to be incorporated into the plant pest management curriculum.
9. Integrated pest management
Since IPM is now the central theme in plant pest management and has good prospect to overcome many of the undesirable concerns of pesticides, it is crucial that a comprehensive treatment of this subject must be given in the curriculum. It must include the full range of studies relating to IPM, right from the basics (e.g. historical development, rationale and principles of IPM, management tactics and their strategic application, operational aspect on implementation, etc) to more comprehensive issues on policies, institutional structures and human resource development, project development and funding. In particular, special attention must be given to its wide-scale implementation and operational strategies, drawing on the lessons learnt from past failures and recent success cases. The newer approach, involving farmer participatory training and research, should receive key consideration in the curriculum.
10. Major crop ecosystems and the key pests
Since those who are involved in plant pest management will need to deal with the major pests of crops, the curriculum should include relevant studies of these pests in the major crop ecosystems. Although some of these may vary in different countries, the majority will be common over the region. The curriculum should expose the trainees to at least the major ones.
Biotechnology has recently emerged to become an important science that will have an increasing impact on plant pest management. Thus, there should be sufficient coverage given to this subject, especially the basics of biotechnology and how this new science relates to plant pest management. In particular, the various controversial issues around biotechnology should be carefully examined and understood. Whatever potential benefits to be derived and any contribution that could help improve plant pest management must be weighed against any negative impacts (real or potential) that may arise.
12. Extension methodology
Unless there is effective extension of research technology, much of the latter will remain within the academic domain and few of the target clienteles can actually benefit from the knowledge that are generated to improve plant pest management. Course participants, therefore, should be made fully aware of this. The curriculum should expose them to the different extension methods so that they can be applied accordingly where required. It should be noted that a highly successful and proven method is that relating to the farmer participatory approach. Thus, all those who are involved in plant pest management should be guided on this aspect.
13. Statistical methods and analysis
These are basic requirements in all scientific curricula. The science of plant pest management therefore is no exception and their importance within the curriculum should not be overlooked.
14. Computer applications and bio-informatics
With the advent of computers and related information technology, there has been revolutionary changes in information access today, including in the field of plant pest management. The information age has made available easier and quicker access of plant pest management information through huge and interactive databases captured in compact discs. Some examples include the CABPESTCD, Global Crop Protection Compendium, Arthropod Name Index, AGRIS, etc. In addition, various kinds of information relating to plant pest management are also obtainable through the global Internet facilities. Awareness of such facilities and the ability to use them are of enormous advantage to the course participants. Computer applications and the field of bio-informatics should therefore form a necessary requirement in the curriculum of plant pest management.
15. General/current issues of concern to plant pest management
There are many general issues of concerned to plant pest management which course participants should be aware of. These are broad subjects that may impact on general perspective of plant pest management; hence they may shape decision-making and other follow-up actions of those involved. Some aspects, among others, are those relating to globalization and trade agreements of WTO and AFTA, the action plans of UNCED Agenda 21 and Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), and the import regulations under the FAO Code of Conduct for the Import and Release of Exotic Biological Control Agents. Others are biotechnology and plant pest management, alternative agriculture (e.g. organic farming, sustainable agriculture, etc) and those relating to global invasive species. Course participants should be encouraged to take interest in them and to ponder and discuss such agriculture-related issues through the curriculum.
Practical Field Work
It is important to note that plant pest management deals substantially with field problems. Although certain amount of formal lectures and laboratory experimentation will be required to gain the general understanding and specific technical skills, these are essentially to provide the basic backup knowledge for operational exercises and decision-making in the field. Thus, it is essential that a substantial amount of practical training in the field (20–30%) must form part of the plant pest management curriculum to supplement the lectures and laboratory activities. This will ensure that course participants do not remain confined to a purely academic domain or only with theoretical knowledge but can also develop to become one with a practical outlook in plant pest management. The practical work out in the farm will allow them to experience the realities of pest problems and also other production constraints normally encountered by growers.
It cannot be over-emphasized that no amount of book learning and lectures can match the benefits to be derived from a combination of lectures and direct/personal learning through self-discovery in hands-on activities in the field. Of especial importance is that the practical field work will help develop the right kind of graduate with the proper balance of education around plant pest management
Projects and Dissertation
Unlike the practical field activities which essentially are smaller bits of studies or exercises with objectives to elucidate certain specific issues in isolation, the projects to be undertaken (and which will result in the preparation of project reports or dissertations) are targeted at much broader themes that encompass a number of smaller but related issues. Each project assignment could be of at least 6-month duration and is to be carried out in the final year.
The prime value of such a project assignment is that the trainee will have the opportunity to apply independently the knowledge he/she has acquired so far to a current problem and thereby is able to exercise and demonstrate his/her scientific capability. Developing the confidence in solving a plant pest problem would be another major benefit. In addition, there is the opportunity to display his/her initiative, organising and management ability, and the resourcefulness in finding the best means to meet the challenges of the project assignment within a time period. The project report would permit the assessment of the work outputs, including the trainee's coherence of thoughts in the assigned subject, analytical capability and presentation skills.
Many countries in Asia-Pacific have a plant pest management curriculum in one form or another. They are however dissimilar in some ways in the different countries because of (i) unequal priorities accorded to different crops and the pest problems, (ii) different emphasis given to certain technical aspects due to different levels in plant protection science, (iii) differing funding support, and (iv) availability of resource capacity. It is desirable that whatever differences currently exist be reduced so that a more uniform curriculum can be applied within the region. This will have the advantage in producing graduates of similar training, capability and appreciation in plant protection science that will allow for easier knowledge sharing, exchange of expertise and mutual inter-country assistance within the region. Such a development will have great significance since the region faces many common pest problems. Moreover, this need may become more critical with increasing global competition due to more open market and demand for better quality in agricultural food produce.
It is acknowledged that whatever efforts made to narrow the differences among the current curricula of plant pest management in the region towards a more uniform curriculum may not be easy or can be achieved quickly. This is because many diverse factors and conditions need to be given consideration, mostly those that give rise to the current differences, and some of which may even be outside the jurisdiction of plant protection authorities. Ultimately, after a series of consultations, the basic curriculum must be formulated, agreed to and accepted by all the parties concerned. Despite the daunting task ahead, it is necessary to make a start, and this Expert Consultation has provided the initial opportunity. Hopefully, this beginning will stimulate and expedite the process to achieve the goal of harmonizing the various curricula.
As a start it is suggested that the plant pest management curriculum for the basic degree in the different countries be first examined for areas of commonality. The rationale for retaining each particular subject in the curriculum should be carefully considered. This should be followed by consideration of other new and additional aspects for incorporation into the plant pest management curriculum. All these subjects agreed upon will then form the core of the curriculum for the basic degree for the region. Specific aspects peculiar for a particular country can then be added to this core curriculum to form the overall (combined) curriculum to be used in the country concerned. For all these core subject areas identified, it is necessary also to develop the sub-topics. For example, the sub-topics of basic entomology (and other core subject areas) must be clearly spelt out, such as, insect taxonomy and classification, insect morphology, insect biology, insect physiology, insect behaviour, etc.
This plant pest management curriculum is not cast-bound. Over time, it will need to be improved or revised to fit in with any future developments or other changes. There may be additions, deletions, or both, that have to be done to the curriculum; these depending on what the conditions may then be at that point of time. Thus, a review of the curriculum will have to be carried out from time to time so that the appropriate actions can be taken.
It is recognized that the desired plant pest management curriculum for the basic degree will require more than just this single Expert Consultation before it can be finalized and accepted by all concerned. It cannot be over-emphasized that the quality of the curriculum must not be compromised in order to have it completed speedily. Achieving a curriculum of quality is crucial because it must provide a good foundation in plant protection science to the graduates. Only with a good foundation can they perform effectively in the crop protection tasks (required immediately of them if they proceed straight into employment) or to continue their studies further for higher degrees to specialize in some selected pest control disciplines.
The above guidelines are suggested for developing only the core curriculum of the basic degree in plant pest management. Using this as the base, the subjects identified so far, (and along with other additional ones), can be given greater depths in treatment to fulfill the requirements for subsequent higher degrees in plant pest management. Besides the greater depths in subject treatment, the curricula for the higher degrees would also need to enlarge on their range of subject coverage, include special pest management issues that require critical analyses, run more practical field work and demand a more comprehensive dissertation on research of longer duration.
An important area for expansion in the curricula of the higher degrees is that of IPM. This is mainly because IPM has emerged as the central theme in plant pest management. Furthermore, the demand for IPM will increase because of its bright prospect. Firstly, the benefits are enormous. Also, more and more successes are being achieved at farm level and in an increasing number of different crops in the region. The science of IPM is improving while the constraints to field implementation are better understood. Consequently, the adoption and diffusion of IPM has increased much more rapidly in recent years. In addition, national governments and many non-governmental organizations and aid-agencies have shown keen interest in IPM and have increased their support. Thus, IPM will likely assume a much greater importance in the future, and as such, IPM must feature prominently in any plant pest management curricula.
It is important to note that although this Expert Consultation deals mainly with plant pest management curriculum for university and related institute education, we do not forget one other important and very successful group of IPM practitioners in plant pest management. This group includes a wide range of people; some with degree education (extension scientists), many more with college level education (extension field workers and technicians) and very large numbers without any formal education (the farmers). Many in this group have proven to be good IPM practitioners at farm level after undergoing training in IPM through the non-formal and participatory approach, one model of which is that of Farmer Field Schools. A different curriculum is followed here, though still with room for improvements on its technical contents. However, because of the high success rate achieved by this IPM group, the university education should also include studying the group's approach in its plant pest management curriculum. An understanding into this may possibly help the university improve its teaching approach, particularly in IPM. In addition, it could provide an opportunity for the course participants to understand better the IPM group training approach and possibly enable the graduates to help improve further the curriculum (technical) contents currently in use by the IPM group.