Transforming farmers and plant doctors into pest-smart agents in their communities

Farmers and plant doctors in Ekxang Climate-Smart Village (CSV) in Laos were trained on biologically-based alternatives to agrochemcicals used in vegetable production on 24 October 2018. Three women farmers, 16 men farmers and five plant doctors from the Plant Protection Center (PPC) participated in the training that was organized as part of the Pest-Smart project. The project, funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), aims to develop pest-smart technologies and practices in CSVs. In the long run, it aims to foster communities that can address pests and diseases in a “climate-smart” manner.

Currently, this CCAFS project is cultivating a specific behaviour change in the communities. Such change is exhibited by the farmers who are now opting for farm-friendly alternatives to eliminate pests and diseases. Plant doctors and extension workers, meanwhile, serve as catalysts of this change. Through their knowledge, skills and daily experiences stemming from working with the farmers, they can promote pest-smart technologies and practices on a wider scale.

“To see is to believe”

The training was organized by the Center for Agriculture and Bioscience International-Southeast Asia (CABI-SEA). It was led by Dr. Arnaud Costa, the CABI-SEA Integrated Crop Management Advisor and Pest-Smart project leader, and Dr. Sathis Sri Thanarajoo, a CABI-SEA scientist.

During the training, Mrs. Pinkham, one of the plant doctors, explained the purpose of the training to the farmers. Mrs. Chantha, another plant doctor, asked the farmers about their current awareness level on biological control use against pests and diseases. The farmers responded positively and expressed their interest in participating in the training. Dr. Costa emphasized that farmers must apply pest-smart biological control options on their farms. Therefore, they were taught on how to use Metarhizium sp. and Trichoderma sp., two biocontrol products developed by the PPC, by Mrs. Chantha. She then distributed product samples that farmers could readily use against pests.

All the sessions touched upon the theoretical and practical aspects of pest-smart technologies and practices. For instance, Dr. Costa elaborated on more technical information on biological control for the plant doctors. This session was met with enthusiasm, as the plant doctors wanted to improve their knowledge and skills to guide the farmers in using biocontrol methods. Mr. Touy, an entomologist from PPC, contributed to the session by sharing his experiences in using beneficial insects on farms.

PPC has previously conducted a “Model Farm” program where a biocontrol agent (BCA) was applied in a farm in Ekxang CSV. PPC was determined to display the benefits of biocontrol solutions to the farmers. [They] will only gain confidence on the biocontrol methods if they can witness the results by themselves,” explained Mrs. Pinkham during the training.

Examining the field

CABI surveyed the farmers about their perception on and adoption of biocontrol methods. Plant doctors assisted CABI in conducting the survey, which aimed to analyse the farmers’ knowledge, perceptions and choices in bio-based alternatives and biological control.

Specifically, the survey covered pest-smart practices, reasons for choosing pesticides as solution for pest problem, awareness on bio-based solutions, challenges in applying bio-based solutions and interest to attend biocontrol training. In the end, the survey results reported that 32% of the farmers were aware of microbials such as Beauvaria spp., Paecilomyces spp., Trichoderma spp., and Pseudomonas spp. while 26% of them were informed about botanical extracts such as neem extract and garlic powder.

At the end of the training, the farmers and plant doctors asked for further trainings on biological control, including more advanced lessons and hands-on demonstrations or visits to model farms. The plant doctors, specifically, said that they were committed to promote the benefits of BCAs to farmers in Ekxang CSV and in other neighbouring villages.

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