News / Asia

Hunger In Focus: Reducing Insects to Increase Crop Yield

Two-Thirds of the world's one-billion hungry people live in Asia. Through this series of reports, VOA aims to draw attention to the problems of hunger in Asia as part of World Food Day - 16 October.

Scientists check at cassava plantations for signs of pests and diseases at a field in northeastern Thailand.
Scientists check at cassava plantations for signs of pests and diseases at a field in northeastern Thailand.

Insects have long plagued farmers as they try to grow food for themselves and others.  History is filled with tales of crop failures because of pests.  Chemicals have been widely used for decades to combat the problem.  But the practice is not always friendly to the environment or healthy for those who eat treated produce.

An approach called Integrated Pest Management is helping to address these issues and has successfully increased crop production in Asia and elsewhere.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, as an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices.

IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment.

Brenda Vander Mey is a professor of Sociology at Clemson University who specializes in social aspects of farming.  "Integrated pest management programs thrive in much of Asia," she said.  "The integrated pest management has been extremely successful for decades now in Indonesia.  Crop rotation is one of the strategies for integrated pest management.  It is one of many.  But what you cannot do is just continuously work soil and work soil without putting something back, some organic matter."

IPM is not a single pest control method but, rather, a series of pest management evaluations, decisions and controls.  IPM also varies from organic food growing, which applies many of the same concepts as IPM, but limits the use of pesticides to those that are produced from natural sources.

James Frederick, a professor at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center in Florence, South Carolina, explains some of the basic steps used in IPM.  "They might be able to plant early.  If you know a disease comes in or an insect comes in late in the growing season, so you try to plant early as you can so most of the crop will be made by the time disease or insects come in.  You can do crop rotation.  It is a good example of a basic practice you can do to help with weed control."

Not all insects, weeds, and other living organisms require control.  Many organisms are innocuous, and some are even beneficial. IPM programs work to monitor for pests and identify them accurately.

Professor Frederick says farmers also need to know what is best to plant.  "Sometimes when you develop a variety resistant to a disease, you will lose a little bit of yield.  So normally you would not plant that variety that has that disease resistance unless you have the problem," he said.  "If you know you are going to have a problem, then you are going to plant that variety that is resistant to that disease.  Then of course the last option is some sort of chemical control.  But we try to tell our farmers to use management first and chemicals second," Professor Frederick said.

Genetics is also helping to play a role in developing crops that are more resistant to disease and insects.  But Professor Brenda Vander Mey says modified crops are not universally welcomed.

"There is a horrendous debate about the role that biotechnology or engineered foods and foodstuffs could play in decreasing hunger, food insecurity, etc.  The big issue has become should it have a role given concerns that people have over genetically engineered food and foodstuffs and their potential impact on environment and people.  So the debate just continues in that area, with some countries less comfortable than others with adopting the more genetically engineered germ plasmas, etc. for production."

But she adds improvements in plants can be very beneficial.  "It could be the engineering is such that it is bringing say more beta carotene into the rice.  Or it could be engineered such that the plants are more pest resistant than previously," Vander Mey said.  "And on balance, I think that people are far more comfortable with genetically engineered foods that stick within their own category."

Integrated Pest Management is a complex pest control process, and specific plans need to be developed to suit specific needs.  One IPM definition does not apply to all foods and all areas.

Professor James Frederick says even small farmers can benefit simply by paying attention to their immediate environment.  "One basic and easy practice for integrated pest management is to go out there and scout and see what the problems are rather than say 'ok, it is about that time of the year when something should show up.  Therefore I am going to go out and spray whether it is out there or not,'" he said.

In the United States, food grown using IPM practices is not usually identified in the marketplace similar to organic food.  Produce grown using IPM methods do not have a national certification as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has developed for organic foods.

Jim Stevenson

For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

You May Like

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs