Chemicals-free farming and livelihood options for vulnerable people
Chemicals of various types are regularly applied on wet paddy eco-system in almost all Asian countries. The application begins as early as at the time of land preparation by some farmers. However, the majority apply it during paddy growth for weed control, pests and disease control. There is evidence that the number of applications within the life cycle of a paddy crop has been on the increase.
The chemicals applied on paddy crop kills not only weeds and pests but also fish and almost all other aquatic creatures such as bugs, cricketers, crustaceans, amphibians, mollusks, reptiles and edible plants. The harvest of aquatic creatures and plants provide a rich source of nutrients for poor and families with vulnerability. The sale of these items provide income while the engagement of people in collecting, cleaning, transport and packing provide employment opportunities to several hundreds of people. The harvesting and sale of aquatic creatures is the sole income source for families in and around Delta Region of Myanmar and along the Mekong River in Lao and Cambodia. A study has shown that about 30 per cent of households in Delta regions are owning paddy lands while 70 per cent depend on the collection of aquatic creatures and plants for sale.
Evidence in Lao suggest that people with disabilities are being helped to earn an income through their engagement in cleaning and preparation of creatures collected from paddy fields. The collection of insects, fish and other creatures is an activity where children are heavily involved. On the other hand, sick and disabled people are engaged in activities such as cleaning, removal of parts not consumed, packing and preparation of creatures before dispatching to markets. The collection of insects from paddy fields starts quite early in the morning which is purchased by vendors. The produce is brought to a central area near a town by about 6.00 in the morning for cleaning, sorting and packing before being shipped out to consuming areas. This task is completed by about 7.00 am in the morning and the produce is ready to be dispatched. The cleaning, sorting and packing is done by disable people such as deaf, blind and people who have no legs to walk. The family members help disable people to come to a central location for cleaning. Although they have disabilities of different types, they are able to remove unwanted parts of insects, clean and pack using their hands. On the other hand, widows and very poor people are able to engage in all activities from collecting to cleaning and even processing before consumption.
The impact of agro-chemicals on livelihood of vulnerable people by way of reduced insect and fish harvest is often disregarded in the analysis of costs and returns to high-input use paddy farming. The notion to increase paddy productivity per se without considering the total returns to wet paddy as a system is yet another error made by planners.
Similar experiences from developing countries: