Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

Enhancing capacities for a country-owned transition towards CSA

Enabling Frameworks

Zero-tillage potato integrated pest management (IPM) for climate mitigation in Viet Nam

Overuse of pesticides in vegetable production in Asia has negative impacts on the health of smallholder farmers and their production environment. Climate change facilitates the spread of invasive plant pest and disease species, and farmers often respond by using more pesticides. Momentum is building to integrate IPM into efforts to promote good agricultural practices and the sustainable intensification of crop production. The standard training approach employed in all FAO regional IPM programmes is the FFS approach. FFS are ‘schools without walls’, and the learning is done in farmers’ fields. Typically, a group of about 25 to 30 farmers meet on a weekly basis. They work and study together cultivating local crops. Through experiential and participatory learning techniques participants are empowered to make better-informed crop management decisions. 

Potato is an important food crop in Viet Nam. The crop, which is increasingly being used to provide raw materials for the food-processing industry, provides a stable income to the smallholder farmers in the Red River Delta region. However, rising labour costs have been one of the major causes for sluggish growth. To address the issue, FAO initiated an innovative pilot project, which was implemented by the Viet Nam National IPM Programme and Plant Protection Sub-department. The project, which promoted a rice-potato farming system, was carried out in Thai Binh Province from 2009 to 2011, in the village of Thai Giang in the district of Thai Thuy, and the village of Vu An in the district of Kien Xuong. A series of action research activities were undertaken comparing potatoes grown using rice stubble as mulch (no tillage) with normal soil-mulched potato (normal tillage). In zero-tillage potato IPM, the potato seed tubers are simply placed on the beds created by the drainage furrows. After adding fertilizer to the soil around the tubers, the beds are covered with straw left over from the recent rice harvest. 

Because the rice straw was burnt in traditional practices, the use of leftover rice straw for mulch has the added benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The straw mulch creates an important habitat for many of the natural enemies of potato pests. These insects and micro-organisms, which are referred to as 'friends of farmers' are vital for successfully regulating the plant pest population in a natural, organic way. Importantly, mulching with rice straw lowers the need for water for irrigation from 5 000 cubic metres per hectare to just 900 cubic metres per hectare. When using the IPM system to grow potatoes, farmers report a substantial reduction in the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and a dramatic reduction in labour. The use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is the biggest source of nitrous oxide emissions in the agriculture sectors (IPCC, 2007). Increased nutrient recycling within the farming system reduces the need to apply mineral fertilizers, which contributes to climate mitigation. The use of mulch eliminated the need for tillage, which led to a 50 percent reduction in herbicide use, reduced the labour required by 192 person days per hectare, and increased net profits by about 40 percent. Equally important, the reduced labour demands means that elderly women – who are often left to work the farms when men and the younger workers migrate to cities – are now able to grow potatoes. 

Initially, the pilot project involved 25 farmers in a single one province. Today, 4 000 farmers in 22 provinces have adopted zero-tillage potato cultivation using IPM. Eighty percent of those farmers are women. This innovative fieldwork, developed and promoted through FFS, also had an important impact on policies at national and local levels. In 2013, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development recognized the FAO and Oxfam-supported “zero-tillage potato IPM in combination with rice straw mulch” as an “agricultural technical advancement” and instructed all 22 potato-growing provinces to apply the practice. In recognition of his pioneering work for development of the zero-tillage potato IPM work, Mr. Ngo Tien Dung, the former National IPM Coordinator and a local FFS expert, was awarded the Golden Rice Panicle, a key Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development bi-annual award for important innovative agriculture and rural development work in Viet Nam. Through South-South collaboration, the experiences gained in Viet Nam will be used in FFSs in Nepal to promote no-tillage potato IPM.

One of the most important lessons learned from the project in Viet Nam is the need for farmers to become IPM experts. Utilizing ecological resources and empowering farmers with knowledge leads to economic, social and environmental outcomes that support climate change mitigation. In Viet Nam, the FFS approach is used to develop core groups of farmers (FFS alumni) in each village who can coach other farmers in the community on improved production practices and alternative pest management strategies. FFSs support the government’s extension service so that more farmers can benefit from farmer education. Participation in FFS builds the farmers’ technical capacities as well as their individual and group skills, which are also needed to cope with a changing climate. 

Source: Authors