Writer: Rojana Manowalailao, ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood Systems
Mr. Noor Azri Bin Haji Mohamad Noor from the Department of Agriculture talked about issues and challenges in sustainable agriculture and the role of his unit in tackling them. Mr. Noor recently attended the 6th Project Partner Meeting of the ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood Systems (ASEAN SAS) in Vientiane, Lao PDR where he gave this interview.
Can you please tell us about the role of Crop Protection unit?
“Our role is basically to advise and help farmers and the public to deal with problems in controlling pest and disease problems on all crop commodities”
How do you see that sustainable agrifood systems are important?
“I think now that people are talking about food security everywhere around the world, so it is quite important that we need to give awareness or improve farmer’s perception on sustainable agricultural systems. Eventhough we focus on high production and higher yield, we just cannot forget that these are resources and if we damage them, it will not sustain. Then, where are we going to plant in the future if we damage our soils, if we damage our environment and if we just keep producing and we do not care about the systems?”
Are there any issues or challenges in your country?
“In our country, with regard to sustainable agriculture, I think people are aware of it but it is just that the Department needs to focus more on telling them to use IPM (Integrated Pest Management). Although we have been doing things like talking to farmers, and talking to Department staff about different methods of control, and different methods of soil and nutrition [conservation], we need to keep telling them that there is no one specific answer in the field that when you do your crops if you have problems, this is the only way that you can tackle it. There are always ways and methods to combine, so IPM is a very important issue although people are not really aware of it anymore. People just care about only using pesticides and they do not realize that they are using too much pesticide or they use a lot of inorganic fertilizer and the soil will in the end not be so fertile anymore.”
“I do hope that farmers and also private sector can come to an agreement someday that sustainable agriculture is the way to go. So we can always get their supply without damaging the environment.”
Is there a lot of overuse of chemical substances?
“I am not sure about the soil part, but in terms of pesticides, there are cases that we do know that farmers although they do not really admit to it but we do know certain times they use over excessively. And we just need to go out there. The Department needs to go out there at certain times in one month just to refresh their memory that they do not really need to use it all the time. And then, we do want to focus them actually to shift their use instead of using pesticides excessively, we want them to depend on their natural enemies that are in the fields. We have done surveys a couple of years ago with a consultancy project and we found that in our paddy fields and in our vegetable fields, there is actually more natural enemies in the paddy fields up to harvest because there is no use of pesticides at that period, but in our vegetable field and in our vegetable farm we can hardly get natural enemies. It shows clearly that the farmers are using pesticides. So we need to give awareness to them.”
How does the government deal with the issues so far?
“So far, in terms of if it is used excessively and if it is somehow caught in the crops like from MRL [Maximum Residue Limit of pesticides], MRL residue or excessive, then the Department will give farmers a talk and give them a warning. That is part of where we monitor whether these farmers are actually using this excessively but only through their harvest products. That means we do say spot checks to random spot checks to test their products whether they are MRL safe or not.”
If you could, what would you like to do to solve the problem or to tackle the issues?
“I would like to do a lot of things but it is not an easy task. If I could, I would love the farmers to actually shift their practice to use more IPM rather than using chemicals. But that is the thing that ‘Pesticides need to be used in case there is an outbreak’ and we have cases of outbreaks where pest and disease if they were not controlled in the end, they did become an outbreak and it could cost the farmers to have no yield at all. So, that is why we cannot enforce them to just use IPM. We need them to make decisions for themselves. So I, myself would think that our agriculture system to be sustainable for let say the next 50 years, we would definitely need to educate them more on the importance of not using chemicals excessively but still can rely on them when we need to.”
When people are saying that they want farmers to shift their practices, how can this be done?
“I think one thing would be that we need to show them if it works or not. Then, because seeing is believing so by giving them a practical advice like a demo plot where we can show them that even with this kind of practice, you can still achieve your yield and may be negotiate like how the can actually adopt the practice. We cannot just tell them how to do it and then you get this yield. No, because it will depend on that demo plot if it is just this demo plot. Sometimes, in the field it is a different case because pest and disease are different in different locations. So for me it is not just doing this and doing that but practically tell them and also constantly going out just discussing with them what they can do to improve their yields and what they can do to improve their systems. So, there is a sustainable system.”
Does your Department have any role in doing what you just said?
“Yes, we do that. We do go out. If there is a problem where the farmers need to see, we go out and that is when we do have a closer relationship, more close consultation whether that just giving them talks, or just showing them slides. We go out to the fields, talk to them, discuss with them.”
Last question; is there anything else you would like to say?
“I do hope that farmers and also may be private sectors can come to an agreement someday that sustainable agriculture is the way to go. Let say, I am the private sector and I want produce from the farmer. I hope that the private sector will also think sustainable, so we can always get their supply without damaging the environment.”
Over70 experts from ten ASEAN Member States recently met in Lao PDR to mark the ASEAN SAS project’s mid-term milestone and discuss emerging issues and challenges to food security, including environment and climate changes in order to develop strategies for project activities post 2015. ASEAN SAS, since the inception of the second phase in 2014, has implemented activities under three priority areas namely policy framework, production technologies and market linkages to encourage regional cooperation in promoting sustainable food production at the national level as well as enhancing synergies and boosting greater impact in respective countries. The Meetings run on 17-20 November 2015 co-hosted by the Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Lao PDR.
Transcribed by Sabrina Kessler, ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood Systems