GENET archive


AGRICULTURE & DEVELOPMENT: Switch to ecological engineering would aid independence

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Nature, UK

AUTHOR: Nature 456, 570, by Josef Settele, Jacobus Biesmeijer & Riccardo Bommarco


DATE:   04.12.2008

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In your News Feature ?Is China ready for GM rice?? (Nature 455, 850?852; 2008), you consider the merits of using genetically modified (GM) crops for pest control. But don?t overlook the potential of ecological engineering, which can provide an important and undervalued approach to tackling agricultural problems.

Biological control in irrigated rice is a prime example of how increasing biodiversity can offer a key service to humans. Insect pests in rice are efficiently controlled by appropriate reduction of pesticide application together with landscape management (see, for example, M. J. Way and K. L. Heong Bull. Ent. Res. 84, 567?587; 1994). This strategy has led to almost complete abolition of insecticide application in places such as the research fields of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines.

It was the strikingly successful example of biodiversity and ecosystem services management by IRRI that persuaded us to recruit the institute into a large international research network (J. Settele et al. Nature 453, 850; 2008), with a view to developing sustainable land use on a global scale and refining ecological-engineering approaches.

Employing GM rice for pest control overlooks services available from natural resources that are not so dependent on big business and so do not undermine the independence of farmers and developing nations. Switching investment of resources from GM crops and pesticides to ecological engineering could be a more efficient long-term and low-cost strategy.

In such a well-studied crop as rice, ecological engineering could be implemented immediately. Research efforts should focus on developing sustainable management schemes for ecosystem services for other key crops, in China and worldwide.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: Star Tribune, USA

AUTHOR: Matt McKinney


DATE:   02.12.2008

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Fertilizers and genetically modified seeds aren?t the only answers to growing more food. In Cambodia, in response to calls for the country to grow more of its own rice, a major aid organization, Oxfam America, is pursuing a cheaper solution.

It is encouraging rice farmers to follow a list of a dozen or so rules -- things like plant seedlings closer to the surface, in rows, individually and not in handfuls at a time -- that taken together could double a farmer?s harvest, according to Yang Saing Koma, a Cambodian agriculturalist who?s helping wage a campaign against age-old techniques. The techniques give seeds more oxygen and more room to grow into larger plants with more rice kernels, he said.

?There is a big potential to increase rice production using existing practices but you have to change your mindset, your attitude,? he said.

First developed by a Jesuit priest working with rice producers in Madagascar, the ideas have become known in Third World development circles as the ?System for Rice Intensification,? or SRI. Promotion of the farming technique has become a cottage industry for groups working with the world?s poor, with everyone from Oxfam to Cornell University teaching SRI to farmers from Cambodia to -- literally -- Timbuktu.

?It?s so easy that one of its problems is that people think you?re pulling their leg,? said Brian Lund, regional director for Oxfam America?s office in Cambodia. ?It can double the yield, but when your neighbor sees that he?ll say, ?Right, you must have slipped out last night and put some fertilizer on that.??

Farmers use less water, less fertilizer and fewer seeds, but in the end the amount of rice produced per acre is greater than traditional practices, say proponents. And with less fertilizer to buy, farmers save money.

Koma, in partnership with Oxfam, recruited 38 farmers in 2000 to try SRI practices. He said he has more than 100,000 farmers using the system today.



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