IPM-trained farmers in Indonesia escape pest outbreaks

As rice price increases in Indonesia reach the 300 percent mark, and unusual weather conditions linked to El Niño continue to put stress on production, some rice farmers fearing for the future and looking for windfall profits have stepped up their use of fertilizers and pesticides in the paddy fields.

But FAO and Indonesian experts in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) have reported that fields sprayed repeatedly with pesticides in the run-up to harvest are showing the lowest yields, because of the brown plant hopper (BPH) - one of the rice farmers' most dreaded pest enemies.

Indonesia: gathering insects for identification during IPM training
(FAO/15836/J.M. Micaud)

Indonesian rice farmers practising IPM rarely use pesticides. (Go to What is Integrated Pest Management?) In IPM Farmers' Field Schools (FFS), they have learnt that broad-spectrum insecticides shatter the ecological balance of the fields and allow devastating pests - and BPH in particular - to multiply in an enemy-free environment. This lesson has been vividly proved recently in the fields.

The insect predators that feed on rice pests - dragon-flies, wasps, spiders, pond skaters and many others - are wiped out by heavy pesticide applications. But BPH eggs are laid safely inside the rice plant stalks. When they hatch they start feeding, sucking the rice plants dry. Fields with heavy infestations of BPH can become entirely parched - an effect known as "hopper burn" - cutting the harvest to zero.

In neighbouring fields a few metres away, where pesticides have not been used - and BPH predators flourish - healthy rice plants continue to grow.

Field studies show the link

FAO's Peter Ooi was one of the experts sent to the field to investigate the recent outbreaks of BPH. He reported: "In North Sumatra, we found that outbreaks of BPH occurred in fields treated with endosulfan ... used in a futile attempt to control golden snail. While the snail was not killed, many natural enemies were. Farmers reported dead frogs and even snakes. Well, BPH came along and multiplied rapidly in a low natural enemy environment."

Work started immediately to prove the link between pesticides and BPH in the field. "Hence, ... action research was initiated with FFS alumni members," Ooi went on. "The studies were successful as farmers who did not use endosulfan did not have any more BPH."

Referring to the current pest outbreaks in Indonesia, Andrew Bartlett, Senior IPM Programme Development Officer, said, "Thousands of farmers who have completed IPM training, and who are now growing rice without any pesticides, have been unaffected by BPH this season."

IPM was pioneered in Indonesia following the 1986 Presidential Instruction banning the use of 57 pesticides on rice and cutting off pesticide subsidies. Cutting subsidies saved the government about US$120 million a year. But there was another reason for the Presidential Instruction: national and international experts had clearly demonstrated that excessive use of pesticides was causing a resurgence of BPH, which was spreading like wildfire and causing widespread crop losses.

Applications of pesticides on rice had been stepped up as part of the country's drive to achieve self-sufficiency in the staple grain - a landmark goal that was reached in 1984. But by late 1985, nearly 70 percent of rice production in Java (the largest island) was threatened by the BPH.

Cambodia: IPM facilitator in the field with the farmers
(FAO/19629/G. Bizzarri)

Nearly 1 million farmers have been trained in IPM in Indonesia so far, and nearly every village in the major rice-growing areas has had at least one FFS. Some 2 700 full-time government IPM trainers operate in the country, along with over 12 000 part-time farmer trainers. In the FFS programme, each farmer is given 40 to 60 hours of training.

The current economic crisis in Indonesia adds new urgency to the task of providing farmers with a sustainable and affordable solution to the problems of pest control.

FAO's IPM Global Facility now assists projects across Asia and in Africa. IPM techniques are also widely used with other crops, such as rice and vegetables in the West African countries of Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Mali, and cotton and maize in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

According to Russ Dilts, Regional Coordinator of FAO's IPM Programme in Asia, "countries across the Asia region are now at a crossroads where they must choose between a future of farmer-based, sustainable agriculture, or a return to the input-led systems fostered by the Green Revolution in decades past."

"Production pressures coming from droughts such as those caused by El Niño, and subsequent, often pesticide-induced, sporadic pest outbreaks, will test their vision and their resolution over the coming seasons and years," said Dilts.

27 November 1998

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