In several countries across Asia, rice farmers fight the battle against the major insect pest of rice crops – brown planthoppers (BPH). These tiny insects feed on the rice plants and transmit viruses in the process, leaving the infected rice plants discolored, severely stunted, and unproductive. At a large scale, they cause unprecedented damage estimated at 2 to 3 million tons annually across regions where rice is a staple food.
Out of fear and misinformation, rice farmers often apply different pesticides in the hope to stop its wide destruction and control its rapid spread. On the contrary, this measure only kills natural predators, such as spiders, aquatic bugs, predatory bugs, and parasitoid wasps, and further intensifies BPH attack as these devastating insects rapidly develop resistance to insecticides.
Through a collaborative research network with national scientists in Asia, IRRI and the Asian Development Bank initiated the Rice Planthopper Project. It promotes ecological engineering as a management strategy to build ecological diversity which strengthens the rice field’s natural capacity to cope with pests. Researchers from across different GRiSP organizations also hasten the sharing of the latest improved strategies to address pest outbreak.
IRRI insect ecologist K.L. Heong leads the effort in pushing ecologically driven research and practices to restore biodiversity and lessen dependence on pesticides which pose risks to the health of the farmers and the environment. And since planthoppers readily evolve, developing rice varieties which can resist BPH can also help reduce pest damage. IRRI rice breeder Kshirod Jena and his team identified new BPH resistance genes, Bph18, Bph20, and Bph 21, that provide broad resistance to BPH populations.
Through the joint efforts of all stakeholders, research and extension in China, Thailand, and Vietnam now adopt ecological engineering concepts, methods and tools, recognizing the new concept that insecticides induce planthopper pest outbreak. Attitudes of Thai and Vietnamese farmers have significantly changed favorably toward ecological engineering methods.
In Vietnam, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development issued a circular regulating the distribution and marketing of pesticides, now being enacted into law.
Its Tien Giang Provincial Government initiated the program “Women in Ecological Engineering” which aims to increase women involvement in sustainable pest management.
In China, the Ministry of Agriculture adopted the ecological engineering approach in its 2013 pest management strategy.
And with the identified BPH-resistant genes, several GRiSP research partners in other countries are now incorporating these important genes into their elite rice cultivars.
Despite the successes that IRRI had achieved and continue to achieve, there’s still a lot of work that needs to get done and the Institute can’t do it alone. Funding plays a very important role on whether or not we could do more. This is where you come in.
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Media release and news items
Rice Today features
- The not-so-silent revolution (Rice Today Oct-Dec 2013)
- The future faces of rice science (Rice Today Jan-Mar 2013)