Chemical is out! Cambodian agriculture pushes hard towards biological control agents for sustainability

A national forum promoting green agriculture urged for more collaboration in using living organisms for plant protection.

The 4th National Forum on Regulation, Use and Trade of Biological Control Agent (BCA) brought together 141 participants from both public and private sectors to showcase their experiences and benefits of biological control products for plant protection, which included a trip to field trials during 3-4 May 2017 in Battambang province, Cambodia.

The participants comprised of farmer representatives, extension officers, regulators, practitioners, academe from government, institutes, local and international development organisations and private companies.

“Nowadays more and more stakeholders are working on research and farm trials of BCA products. Both public and private sectors complement each other to support and promote the BCA products in providing input suppliers and distributing the products.

“It is still a long road ahead but we are in the right direction. We only have to change the value of people,” said Dr. Rica Joy Flor, National Coordinator of Epic (Development of Ecologically based Participatory Integrate Pest Management (IPM) Package of rice in Cambodia) project, International Research Rice Institution (IRRI).

Mr. Claudius Bredehoeft, National Project Coordinator of ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood Systems (ASEAN SAS) said: “BCA needs to alternate chemical pesticide because it gives benefits to human health and environment. Today more and more Cambodian farmers turn into organic agriculture. The organic farmer community aim to supply organic products to meet an increasing demand both in the country and also for export.”

Safety food and organic products in Cambodia must be made widely available, said Mr. Srun Sokhom, Deputy Director General of Cambodia’s General Directorate of  Agriculture at the forum. He stated that to push BCAs in Cambodia, all extension workers, stakeholders, researchers, development organisations and private companies have to cooperate and work together to ensure having sustainable agriculture at least starting by home garden then upgrade to commercial farming.

Mr. It Phum, Vice Chief of the Office of Litigation and Investigation, Department of Agricultural Legislation updated at the forum that the ‘ASEAN Guidelines on the Regulation, Use and Trade of Biological Control Agents (BCA)’ in Khmer language and also BCA registration form were submitted to Minister of Agriculture and now are waiting for approve.

‘The ASEAN Guidelines on the Regulation, Use and Trade of Biological Control Agents (BCA)’ was endorsed by the Senior Officials Meeting of the ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF) in 2014 and now was translated into Khmer language with support of ASEAN SAS project.

Besides, the BCA form for registration of all BCA products importing from other countries was developed upon the support of ASEAN SAS project.

Overuse of the pesticide can cause soil and yield damage, and this needs to change from a purely reactive approach to more preventive pest management, said Dr. Thomas Jaekel, Chief Technical Advisor of ASEAN SAS.

Change could be achieved by applying biological control products when pest populations are still low rather than trying to control pest outbreaks with high quantities of pesticides when damage to the crop is already done. Using less pesticides can result in higher production and income for the farmers, said Dr. Jaekel.

However, a major challenge for the use of BCA was their limited availability and variations in quality, he said.

“Proper use of BCA usually requires lower application rates, which significantly reduces cost. On the contrary, overuse of pesticide often has phytotoxic effects, best exemplified by including negative control plots when testing. Insects are not generally harmful to crops, in fact many can be useful in protecting crops against their more damaging relatives. Compared to chemical usage, biocontrol is not more expensive, because application rates can be kept lower and pest control also benefits from the long-term effects, for example micro-organisms multiply in the pest after spraying. One result of the forum is the recommendation to take action in substitute chemicals with bio control products to guarantee sustainable agriculture and income of the farmers.

“No single farmer can change big problems. A community approach is required,” said Dr. Jaekel.

Four out of nine commercial companies who displayed their BCAs products at the forum were given 15 minutes each for presentation for their field experiences and the use of BCAs. This opportunity was designed as a platform for the private sector to exchange concerns and respond to questions at the forum.

On the second day, the participants visited demonstration farms which showed the advantages of biocontrol agents from different companies through a comparison between biocontrol practice and conventional practice.

There were three field demos including cucumber field demo organised by Angkor Green Company by comparing the effectiveness of bio pesticide to chemical pesticide, Pak Choi demo organised by Eco-Agri-Co.,Ltd by showcasing the performance of using bio pesticide (not comparison), and rice demo organised by International Rice Research institution by comparing seed varieties between the use bio pesticide and chemical pesticide. The participants were divided into three groups by a rotation method.

The results at the demonstration fields showed that the plots that used biological control agents looked very similar in competitiveness in controlling pests when compare to those plots using chemical pesticide.

By  Saody So, Marina Moslavac and Rojana Manowalailao, ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood Systems