Writer: Rojana Manowalailao, ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood Systems
When asked if Elianor Sembiring of Bio-agro-input Association, Indonesia had anything to say to farmers, he quickly replied: “Change”. Mr. Sembiring said farmers in Indonesia usually overly used chemical products in farming so that they got rid of pests quickly. And, as consequence, a lot of people were ill because they had been contacting and consuming toxic food from the toxic land in a long period of time, Mr. Sembiring said.
A similar situation is found in Cambodia. Peov Meas, a Chief of Biotechnology Laboratory of National Agriculture Laboratory said farmers in Cambodia also used a lot of chemical pesticides and fetilisers because they wanted fast results.
Excessive use of fertiliser and pesticides by farmers is one of the major challenges in the ASEAN region. Since inception, ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood Systems (ASEAN SAS) as part of the ASEAN-German Programme on Response to Climate Change in Agriculture and Forestry has supported sustainable eco-friendly value chains in agriculture with involvement of public and private sectors both at regional and national level.
Since 2014, the Project has provided technical assistance in developing regionally-cooperated policies and strategies and pushes for an implementation of national legislation, while promoting the use of sustainable inputs and crop management practices via biocontrol crop protection and integrated pest management, and establishing public and private partnership linkages to cover gaps in reaching sustainable cross-border value chains.
Policy at the forefront
In the past two years, ASEAN SAS has accommodated the development and incorporation of the ASEAN Guidelines on the Regulation, Use, and Trade of Biological Control Agents (BCA) into the national policies and strategies of the ASEAN partner countries. The Guidelines are the first of its kinds in ASEAN attempting to bring a holistic solution to the issue of sustainable agricultural practices. Supported by ASEAN SAS, the Guidelines were completed and underwent the endorsement process by the ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry in 2014.
As a result, the government of Lao PDR is currently developing amendments to its Pesticide Management Law that will deal with the registration of biocontrol agents while the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Cambodia is planning to develop the first national BCA guidelines within 2016. For Myanmar, ASEAN SAS will work towards the inclusion of policy recommendation on BCA regulation into national legislation in 2016.
Vietnam and the Philippines announced the inclusion of the ASEAN regulatory guidance into the national pesticide legislation in 2015, whereas in Thailand a drafting committee for developing a national action plan was established, and potential areas in improving the regulatory framework and the use of BCA were identified. Also, in 2015 the Ministry of Agriculture of Indonesia implemented the ASEAN Guidelines in a form of Decree No. 39, which was released in December.
Better livelihood in the farm
Indonesia not only has been active in improving its policy framework, but also in implementing concrete steps to foster the use of BCA and other bio-inputs to farmers. With technical assistance of ASEAN SAS, 150 ‘BCA Clinics’ were established across the country. The Clinics educate farmers and growers on the use of bio-inputs in agriculture. ASEAN SAS has also partnered with the agro-tourism Taman Simalem Resort together with the Islamic University of North Sumatra in Indonesia in providing knowledge and skills to local farmers in the use of bio-inputs, and giving certification support for organic production. About 70 farmers adopted organic practices and received ‘Organik Indonesia’ certification. Income of organic farmers was increased by 180 percent for growing organic fruits and vegetables since inception of partnership.
Ersemina Munthe, farmer from Treasure of Farmers Group – Organik Indah Lestari said: “The profit we see here today marks the good impact of organic farming technology in our village. Through establishment of contract farming with TSr, adoption and implementation of organic farming practices, where we knew that GIZ is helping and sharing supports, we have yields increased and earn higher incomes.” Ms. Munthe, 51, has been a farmer for more than 30 years.
To promote organic cultivation among farmers in Cambodia, the CEDAC (The Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture)/GIZ (German International Cooperation) project trained farmers in implementing biological plant protection based on Trichoderma fungi, a specific form of biological plant protection. In cooperation with the USAID ‘HARVEST’ programme, the CEDAC/GIZ project focused on the diversification of the cropping system while conveying economic understanding to farmers in order to make appropriate decisions. The Project introduced cost-saving, yield-increasing, and climate change-mitigating technology Trichoderma (BCA) which aimed at improving income for 56,000 farm households.
Him Sothea, 49, who participated in the CEDAC/GIZ project, said she now knew very well about chemical pesticides, which were hazardous to water, soil, beneficial insect, and human health. She said recently a neighbor farmer in the village died at the field because he was not instructed well to use pesticides against insect crab in rice field. Since then, she and some other farmers in the village stopped using chemical pesticide. Instead, she used bio-inputs such as compost, cow dung, field residue, and green manure to fertile soil, and natural pesticide to control insect.
These days, Ms. Sothea makes 2,500 US dollar annually from selling organic rice from the surplus of family consumption with 15 percent above the conventional market price. She is also a leader of an organic rice producer group, which is her new title besides a mother and wife after having trained with the CEDAC/GIZ project. A survey analysis showed that due to the new knowledge gained during the training female farmers feel better confident and empowered.
In Vietnam, since November 2015 the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) project supported by GIZ and Croplife International has started knowledge and skill training for government extension staffs, farmers, and pesticide retailers in order to make appropriate decisions for the responsible and safe use of pesticides. So far, about 40 plant protection staffs were trained in IPM technical knowledge and application skills, and these specialists will serve as Master Trainers for both the training of farmers and retailers in 2016.
In Thailand, two field trials on the use of biological crop protection in comparison with application of chemical pesticides have been conducted. The objective is to demonstrate that the use of biocontrol agent is beneficial for farmers and provides them with the crops that satisfy their needs and expectation.
U-Tai Songsaeng, 39, a trader who came to buy the Chinese cabbage at the ASEAN SAS field trials said: “It is hard to believe to see such a good quality vegetable without using chemicals. I grow vegetable myself and I used chemicals but my vegetables did not look as good as these ones,” he said.
The results of the field trials were used to develop application guidance for environmentally friendly and safe management of pest and disease and economic models in support of future capacity development activities in other ASEAN countries.
In all, some 700 ministry officials and agricultural experts and over 15,000 farming households have been trained so far in using sustainable agricultural practices in the past two years since the inception of the Project. Cooperation with the private sector in particular has been expanded to the extent that over 50 international and local companies have invested in project activities benefiting the public interest.
German-ASEAN SAS came to its mid-term milestone in 2015. The team recently met to review the project progress, and discuss emerging issues and possibilities and challenges of the post 2015 activities.