Arthropod Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Conservation in Hainan – Huge Challenges Ahead

L. Wang, Hainan University, Haikou, P R China
M.M. Escalada, Visayas State University, Baybay, Leyte, Philippines
K.L. Heong, International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines

Hongqi rice area, Hainan Island with high habitat biodiversity and potentials for ecosystem services

Ling Shui rice area, Hainan Island with low habitat biodiversity and highly vulnerable to planthopper invasions.

Many rice growing areas in Hainan are established in the valley bottoms and are surrounding by forest habitats. These non rice habitats are potentially rich in predators and parasitoids that can render ecosystem services and reduce vulnerability of the rice fields to planthopper outbreaks.  However, farmers’ frequent prophylactic insecticide applications are threats to biodiversity and the service they provide. Ecological engineering techniques, which involve increasing bund flora to provide nectar resources to beneficial arthropods and reducing prophylactic insecticide use, can be applied to improve pest management as well as to reduce insecticide use. We conducted a baseline survey of 411 farmer respondents in Yun Long and San Men towns, Haikou City, and Xin Po and Ti Meng towns in Ling Shui county in Hainan Island to assess farmers’ attitudes toward pests, pest control and biodiversity conservation in December 2010.  Here are some preliminary findings.

Farmer interview in Ling Shui county

Negative attitudes

We found that only 10% of the farmers interviewed were prepared to practice ecological engineering by growing nectar-rich flowers on the rice bunds; 63% were unwilling and 38% uncertain. Most (78%) felt that the bunds in Hainan are too narrow for growing beneficial flowers on them and it would be extra work (61%).  Besides, farmers often burn crop residues or apply herbicides which would affect the bund vegetation.  A large proportion also felt that increasing bund flora would be a waste of time (57%).

Attitudes that favor the frequent use of insecticides would be another set of challenges (Table 1).  While 63% of the farmers believed that all insects are pests, they also believed that insecticide would kill beneficial arthropods (58%). Perhaps the biggest challenge might be the close association of insecticide use to high yields (83%).  This is contradictory to scientific findings that there were either no effect or negative relationships between insecticide use and yields.  Only 31% believed that insecticide use could cause more pest problems and frequent spraying would cause hopper outbreaks (36%). And to manage planthoppers most (67%) believed that they must use prophylactic spraying.

Table 1:  Farmer beliefs favoring insecticide use (expressed as % cases “true”).

Beliefs % farmers
All insects are harmful to rice crop 63.1
Insecticide sprays always increase yields 83.5
When planthopper are present I must spray 85.5
No other way except insecticides to control planthoppers 73.9
Hybrid rice need more insecticide sprays 55.5

Interviewing a woman farmer in San Men town, Haikou City

Positive attitudes

On the other hand, farmers were aware that increasing flora would benefit bees (86%), would increase beneficial arthropods such as spiders (53%), would help keep planthopper populations low (67%) and would reduce insecticide use (52%). Farmers also felt that flowers on the bunds would beautify the rural setting (71%) and even improve health (65%). In addition farmers believed that insecticide spraying would harm their health (55%), that flowers on the bunds would help bees (81%) which would be important to pollinate fruit trees (91%).  In addition most farmers (71%) believed that flowers on the bunds would make fields look beautiful, improve health (65%), help keep beneficial organisms (57%) and help in lowering planthopper populations (67%). These positive attitudes can be key issues for communication campaigns to focus on.

A pesticide retailer in Hainan with a wide range of products packed as FMCG sachets

Policies and pesticide marketing

Besides farmers’ attitudes major challenges for change would be in the highly dominant pro pesticide policies and marketing in Hainan.  Pesticides are sold as FMCG (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods) with numerous names, packaging and poor labeling.  One product was named Da Xiao Tong Sha or “Big Small, Kill All”. The marketing strategies for FMCG mainly focus on emotional buying and no thinking is generally needed.  Pro pesticide policies include categorizing pesticides as consumer items, price subsidies, free hand-out distributions and facilitating their use as inputs in production systems.  Pro ecosystem service policies on the other hand values ecosystem services, puts on an environmental tax on pesticides and categorizing pesticides as a non-FMCG and implementing licensing programs for distributors. Unless pro pesticide policies are modified, huge challenges to implement biodiversity and ecosystem services conservation techniques will remain as they are the biggest obstacles to sustainable development.