What is Integrated Pest Management?

Integrated Pest Management - better known as IPM - was introduced on a large scale in Indonesia in the late 1980s and is now being promoted by FAO in more than 40 countries worldwide. IPM enables farmers to monitor and control the pests in their fields, keeping the use of expensive and potentially damaging and dangerous chemical pesticides to an absolute minimum.

A Ghanaian farmer weeds the IPM project's experimental rice field
(FAO/18429/P. Cenini)

In developing countries, under village conditions, safe use of hazardous pesticides is practically impossible. Protective clothing is prohibitively expensive, and the tropical heat makes it almost unwearable. A 1993 study in Indonesia showed that 21 percent of spraying operations resulted in three or more symptoms associated with pesticide poisoning. Eighty-four percent of farmers were also found to be storing chemicals in their homes, in unsafe conditions where children could reach them.

In the words of an Indonesian publication about IPM : "The IPM Program ... [gives] farmers the tools to make their own informed decisions, so they do not waste their resources, risk their health, harm their crops, or damage the environment."

Field-based training

In order to train farmers effectively in IPM, an innovative, field-based, participatory training technique was developed - the Farmers' Field School (FFS). Meeting once a week for a 12-week crop season, from transplant to harvest, farmers learn the basic science and the techniques on which successful IPM is based. Their first task is to plant an experimental rice field which will be their classroom.

In this field they will study plant health, water management, weather, weed density and disease. They will also collect and draw pictures of the different bugs they find in the field, learning to distinguish between "pests" and "beneficials" - the predators that keep the pests' numbers down.

There are three main types of rice pest:

  • stem borers
  • leaf folders
  • seed bugs

Stem borers cause visual damage but little yield loss. Leaf folders limit the plant's ability to photosynthesize by literally folding the leaves up. But a rice plant can tolerate up to 10 percent of its leaves being "folded" without yield loss. Seed bugs don't usually reach high enough numbers to cause yield loss.

Often, when untrained farmers see the superficial damage caused by pests that will not actually affect their harvests, they spray with pesticide, in the belief that their crop is under threat. Obviously, when rice prices are soaring, farmers are particularly anxious to protect their crops at all costs.

Cambodia: farmers draw the pests they have found in the field (FAO/19702/G. Bizzarri)

Alternative pest control measures

Farmers also learn alternative pest control techniques that they can use when crops are under threat. These include physically removing and destroying pests, building up the populations of beneficial predators, setting out pest traps, and rotating and diversifying crops. Cultivation of pest-resistant crop varieties is also encouraged. The use of limited quantities of narrow spectrum insecticides against certain types of pests is kept as a last resort.

Peer support and discussion vital to sustainable change

Group work and group problem-solving and decision-making is essential to the FFS programme. "Peer support and peer discussions are vital for sustainable behaviour change," said FAO's Senior IPM Officer, Kevin Gallagher. "IPM is a new technology for many farmers and on your own it's difficult to make such a change."

Observing the life of the field, farmers are able to see firsthand what is meant by "ecological balance". They observe the food chain, and most crucially, they see that an unsprayed field is not necessarily devastated by pest outbreaks. They also see that rice plants can sustain some pest damage without yield being affected. Farmers are able to measure the yield of the experimental field against their own yields, and to weigh up the cost of pesticides they have applied against the cost of extra time spent in the fields monitoring the siutation.

But IPM is not based on a static set of rules. It is a dynamic, farmer-driven approach to solving today's problems - which may be different from yesterday's and from tomorrow's - in the field.

Farmers join forces to promote healthy farming practices in Community IPM

According to FAO's Andrew Bartlett, "a new type of IPM training programme has evolved over the years in Asia and we have given the name 'Community IPM' to the type of locally-driven programmes which are emerging".

Community IPM is about farmers organising and implementing IPM activities, and becoming the instigators of IPM rather than the recipients. It is about group action that uses the agro-ecological concepts of IPM to analyse problems, design field studies and carry out experiments. Above all, community IPM is about farmers joining forces to promote and protect farming practices that they know are healthier and more efficient in the fields.

27 November 1998

Back to IPM-trained farmers in Indonesia escape pest outbreaks

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