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2-Plants: IRRI project trained Bangladesh farmers to elimenatepesticides without GE crops

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Bangladeshi farmers take on role of scientist and banish insecticides
SOURCE: IRRI Press Release, edited and sent by AGNET, Canada
DATE:   28 Jul 2004 

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Bangladeshi farmers take on role of scientist and banish insecticides

Dhaka, Bangladesh -- Imagine this: 2,000 poor rice farmers, whose average
farm income is around US$100 per year, suddenly take on the role of
agricultural scientist. Over the course of 2 years -- 4 seasons -- they
prove that insecticides are a complete waste of time and money, and that
they can significantly reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer they use.
They save, on average, $17 per year. It might not sound like much to
some, but it's a 17% pay rise for people who struggle to provide
sufficient food for themselves and their families, and enough to help put
children through school or buy grain to tide rice-deficit farm families
over to the next harvest.

Sound unlikely? Well, it's just happened in Bangladesh. In the last 2
years, the Livelihood Improvement Through Ecology (LITE) project, led by
the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), has trained 2,000
farmers to perform experiments in their own fields which demonstrate that
insecticide can be eliminated and nitrogen fertilizer (urea) applications
reduced without lowering yields. Four thousand more farmers are currently
in training.

What's more, if LITE continues as it has started, in less than a decade,
most of Bangladesh's 11.8 million rice farmers -- almost a 12th of the
country's population of 141 million, according to the Bangladesh Rice
Research Institute, a key project partner -- will have eliminated
insecticides and optimized their fertilizer use.

LITE -- part of the IRRI-led project Poverty Elimination Through Rice
Research Assistance, funded for Bangladesh by the United Kingdom's
Department for International Development -- set out to discover the exact
cause of an assumed drop in rice yield when farmers stop spraying
insecticide. The ultimate aim, explains LITE principal investigator and
IRRI senior entomologist Gary C. Jahn, was to identify safe alternatives
to insecticides.

"To my surprise," reported Dr. Jahn, "when people stopped spraying,
yields didn't drop -- and this was across 600 fields in two different
districts over 4 seasons. I'm convinced that the vast majority of
insecticides that rice farmers use are a complete waste of time and money.

"We quickly realized the most important thing to focus on was scaling
LITE up," he explained. "We've already trained 2,000 farmers. We've
reduced insecticide use among participating farmers by 99%, and by 90%
among nonparticipating farmers in the same villages. Even in the control
villages, where no farmers conducted the experiments, insecticide use
dropped from 80% to 55% -- much of this because of casual contact with
participating farmers."

So how did the farmers take on their scientist role? Lead farmers --
local farmers who happened to be relatively successful -- were taught how
to conduct a simple experiment by partitioning their fields into
quadrants receiving different management strategies: with and without
spraying, and with and without using a leaf color chart (used to optimize
urea applications). Other participating farmers bisected their fields --
spraying one half but not the other.

The results have made real differences. Take 35-year-old Joinal Ahmad.
Before joining LITE, Ahmad grew rice on a little over half a hectare in
his village of Tatoipara, annually eking out a farm income of 2,800
Bangladeshi taka, or $48. He and his wife of 18 years struggled to look
after their two toddler sons and put their two older daughters through
school. Now, with the money he has saved, Ahmad has been able to buy
extra land and boost his planted area to almost two-thirds of a hectare.
He has cut his exposure to health- and environment-threatening chemicals,
and has almost doubled his annual farm income to 4,800 taka.

"I can grow rice at lower cost because I use less urea and no
insecticide," Ahmad explains. "With the money I save, I help my family
and pay for my children's education."

There a number of reasons why spraying is ineffective. Insecticides often
kill the natural enemies of rice pests more effectively than the pests
themselves and many supposed insect pests don't attack the parts of the
plant that affect grain production, or the grain itself. Compounding
this, many farmers use poor equipment to apply out-of-date or
inappropriate insecticides at the wrong time. According to Nazira Qureshi
Kamal, head of BRRI's Entomology Division and LITE's in-country
coordinator, the mere presence of insects on the crop can panic farmers
into spraying.

The method used to expand the scale of LITE from a few hundred farmers to
several thousand -- and potentially millions -- is known as success case
replication (SCR). After being trained to perform the LITE experiments
themselves, lead farmers then train other farmers in their own village,
as well as successful farmers from surrounding villages, who become the
next lead farmers. The new lead farmers do the same, and the process
repeats. The number of trained farmers grows exponentially each rice
season -- like recipients of a chain letter, but this time good things
actually happen.

Jan Orsini, an IRRI consultant to LITE on SCR and a former United Nations
rural development officer, says that in terms of cost-benefit LITE is
extremely successful, bringing $4 farm income for every dollar spent --
well above the threshold used by the World Bank and other funding
agencies to define a worthwhile project. And this is for the first year
alone, without factoring in subsequent years' savings. "This will only
get better with time," enthuses Orsini. "The longer that farmers use the
LITE regime, the more they will save. After 5 years, say, the ratio will
be 1:20, which is truly exceptional."

Dr. Jahn is confident that the farmers will adhere to LITE practices
because, first, they saw the results of their own experiments in their
own fields and, second, LITE goes straight to the bottom line. "Where
farmer field schools rely on the farmers learning and understanding
ecology," he explains, "LITE relies on understanding your wallet, which
is almost innate."

High resolution photos are available at [???]


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