Insecticides can be threats to rice production when misused

Cai Ducheng, Hainan University, Haikou, Hainan, China

At the Conference in Hanoi

I was invited to the ADB-FAO-IRRI sponsored Conference on “Threats of Insecticide Misuse to Rice Ecosystems – Exploring for mitigation options” held on 16 December, 2011 in Hanoi, Vietnam.  It was an eye opening experience as we have often thought that insecticides are necessary for pest management and can not be threats. There is of course overuse of insecticides in Hainan that will harm the attractive superior environment and furthermore, the detrimental side effects resulting from the overuse will inevitably hold back the project for the construction of Hainan into an International Tourism Island. In addition to this harm is what the Conference addressed – issues related to insecticides inducing planthopper outbreaks.

The Conference began with an inspiring speech by Dr Robert Zeigler, the Director General of the International Rice Research Institute based in the Philippines. He spoke about hunger and poverty and how the world will need to ensure increase in rice production to keep up with growing population pressures. Pest outbreaks are destabilizing events and have to be prevented and in this case the planthoppers are induced by insecticide misuse and thus scientists will need to not just develop new control methods, but control insecticide misuse as well.  He called upon the pesticide industry to work together towards solving this problem. Sir Gordon Conway spoke next from London via a video sent earlier.  The former president of Rockefeller Foundation and Chief Science advisor to the United Kingdom government, related his experience about50 years ago working as an entomologist in Sabah. He halted the routine insecticide spraying in cocoa plantations that allowed natural enemies to restore balance and the pest situations then remained low. Sir Gordon was followed by Dr Peter Kenmore, Chief of Plant Protection, FAO Rome who introduced IPM training to millions of farmers. He spoke about experiences in the 1980s when pesticides were subsidized by governments and international AID agencies, like USAID as necessary inputs.  With the introduction of IPM, planthopper problems had reduced until recently when insecticide has escalated.  This time the misuse and overuse is driven by industry with the same results, planthopper outbreaks.  Dr K.L. Heong spoke about recent outbreaks caused by insecticide misuse (or pesticide tsunami) created by weak regulations in marketing that he labeled “house with no roof”.  Other authors spoke about similar experiences as well.

At the moment there are about 300 large retailers in Hainan. Typically pesticides are sold as fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) over the counter.

At the panel discussion, Dr Bas Bouman asked the panel if they thought that planthopper problems are insecticide induced and all replied with a definite “yes”.  Similarly when this question was asked of the audience, the answers were overwhelmingly “yes”.  There is undoubtedly a shift in paradigm in how we should look at pest management in the future.  In China pesticides remain necessary inputs in agriculture and seem to need rethinking. In Hainan our project on arthropod biodiversity is building the foundations that can form the basis for this shift in China.  We have clearly shown that rice areas with less insecticide use have higher spider biodiversity and richer in parasitoid species. The potential and motivation for Hainan province to control pesticide marketing and reduce misuse exist since Hainan is becoming an international tourism destination and also an important winter vegetable production base for all of China.  At the moment there are about 300 large pesticide agencies in Hainan. Pesticides are sold as fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) over the counter. The annual pesticides sales amount is about 0.7 billion CNY. Earlier in 2011, the government announced a new pesticide policy. The government plans to reduce the number of agencies to two or three which will facilitate better control. An important thrust of the Hainan Project in the remaining months is perhaps  finding mitigation options that can lead towards improvement in pesticide marketing and control.