Natural Crop Protection in the Tropics
Letting Information Come to Life
We have come a long way
since NATURAL CROP PROTECTION was first published in 1986. The reception given to this book came as a very pleasant surprise. It was translated into 8 languages and used primarily as a source book by technical staff, extension workers and advisors working with small farmers to promote a more ecological approach to agriculture. The call for collaboration in that book resulted in a considerable amount of feedback, much of it from field practitioners. This feedback has been the main impetus for the current revisions and additions. This new edition includes updated information on pests and control, additional pests, and a section containing case studies of farmer participatory research in natural crop protection.
While we have come a long way - we still have a long way to go. In order to help us on our path towards more natural crop protection, we need to examine
where we are
what has changed and been achieved
who is involved
what remains to be done and
how has it to be done
The context today
Information and communication technologies are changing our world. They are highly sophisticated and powerful in their own way and are even influencing the life of small farmers in developing countries. At the same time, agriculture is becoming polarized between technology-based commercialized agriculture and low-technology-based subsistence agriculture, the latter with a low income potential. Family members working off-farm often complement the low farm income. This can result in the feminization of agriculture, where the women stay back in the rural areas. In many areas women are now the main food producers (78). It is within this global-local framework that our support to improving crop protection for small-scale agriculture has to be seen.
Information and communication technologies
When Natural Crop Production was first written in the mid-80’s it was difficult to access information on natural crop protection. This is no longer the case. Both research institutions and development organizations have many vehicles for sharing information. Current vehicles among development actors include newsletters, information and documentation centres, exchanges between individuals and organizations and increased access to and understanding of scientific research findings. Technological communication tools such as databanks, e-mail and internet now are not only standard for research institutions but also for many development organizations. These improved information-gathering instruments have contributed considerably to make information more transparent and accessible. However, despite technological advances in communication technologies, the success of communicating information depends on making this information come to life.
Breathing life into information
For information to come to life, it must first of all be relevant for the receiver, and it must be perceived as desirable and accessible. For example in a village in northern Thailand, where neem trees are common, a radio programme on the utilization of neem was broadcast through public loudspeakers. The character of the report was academic and theoretical. The villagers who listened to this programme did not determine that the information could also be useful to them, even though there were plenty of neem trees in the village. It was not perceived as relevant and desirable. The mindset and language of the report did not act as a communication bridge between sender and receiver. Providing access to and breathing life into information can be improved both through a 'common' language as well as through an approach which starts with the real situation at the receiver level. In the case of crop protection, the real situation is the environment of the farmers, their mindset and knowledge system. The information only comes to life when farmers use it, by making it part of their daily work life and decision-making.
In this book, the three information systems – traditional, local and scientific – have been treated equally. As much as scientific information needs to be adapted to local situations, traditional information and local information need to be verified, understood better and proven scientifically before being promoted at a larger scale. In knowledge systems, as in nature, there is no 'either ... or'. Therefore, when pursuing common goals, it is essential that we make the different knowledge systems mutually beneficial.
There is both a formal and a non-formal research system. In developing countries it is often the non-formal system which achieves major advances improving the lot of smallholders.
The major players here are governmental research institutes, universities and international agricultural research centres (IARCs). These research institutions pursue a wide range of studies, such as product evaluation, entomological research, insect ecology, biological control, natural product research, resistance management, resistance breeding, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), etc. Crop protection product development through the formal system generally pursues the development of new and less toxic products, often microbial products based on fungi, bacteria, nematodes or viruses. One important weakness of the formal research system is that its research depends heavily on external funding. As a consequence, promising research cannot be pursued when donor priorities change. This research is often fragmentary and it is often difficult to link the research findings of different institutes and combine these into a larger picture. In addition, even though this research is a public good, results are not easily accessible. This leads to under-utilization of existing scientific knowledge which neither farmers nor the extension system can easily access. This results, among other factors, to an inadequate quality of the services of the extension system. These inadequate services affect particularly small farmers who experience most directly any lack or inadequacy of the extension services and who have least access to information.
One of the great contributions of formal systems towards reducing pesticide use during the past decade is without doubt the training and extension concept of the Farmer Field School (FFS) developed by FAO. The FFS is an experiential learning concept combining defined curricula with learning exercises and field practices, determined by the participating farmers and based on their particular interests and needs. This makes the FFS a flexible concept, which can accommodate innovative ideas coming from both scientific research and traditional or local knowledge.
The lack or inadequacy of formal extension services for small farmers is often compensated for by non-governmental extension services. During the last decade, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have played a vital role in developing sustainable farming systems and crop protection practices for smallholders. These have generally not been addressed by the formal system of research and extension. Moreover they have developed approaches and methodologies appropriate for working with smallholders. Well known research approaches belonging to this category include Rapid Rural Appraisal / Participatory Rural Appraisal (RRA/PRA), Participatory Technology Development (PTD) and action research. Systematic extension models developed by the non-governmental sector include Farmer–Led Extension and Farmer to Farmer Exchanges. These approaches are often taken up later by the formal system.
Furthermore, the non-formal research and extension system has developed chemical-free farming systems in crops in which the use of chemical pesticides was previously considered indispensable. NGOs and innovative farmers have pioneered the farming systems for organic cash crops such as cotton, coffee, tea and rice. It is particularly impressive to see that it is possible to cultivate rice and cotton without synthetic insecticides, even though cotton accounts for about 20% of all insecticides consumed worldwide.
Cotton (see AfFOResT case study) is a very good example which demonstrates that:
1. The belief in the indispensability of chemical pesticides is often based on scientific bias and vested interests.
2. The development of natural crop protection concepts requires a holistic approach which combines natural sciences with economic and social sciences.
3. Non-traditional researchers are capable of developing successful innovative concepts and techniques acceptable to small farmers using components of non-formal research, formal research and local knowledge.
These examples demonstrate that there is a potential for change, enthusiasm and a will to move ahead.
© Margraf Publishers 2003