The main indicators for measuring economic sustainability from a producer’s point of view (livelihood) include revenue, costs, and income.
Biocontrol agents (BCA) and other plant protection inputs are production factors that are accounted for under (variable) costs.
Unfortunately, mis– and overuse of synthetic inputs has created a situation where the farm depletes the productive capacity of its natural and human resources, which is not economically viable.
Ecological, social, and economic integrity; each of the three is necessary but only all three together, in harmony and balance, are sustainable.
The economic bottom line places a premium on the present (relative to the future). This is why investment in the (mid to long term) environmental sustainability is not adequately valued.
Only based on this integrity can sustainable farm management maintain and improve competitiveness (sales, inputs, personnel, finance) in order to generate financial surplus and safeguard farm operations in the long term.
BCA, for instance, help to protect ecological integrity and can replace synthetic pesticides that threaten human and environmental health. Besides, they are also pretty effective, securing financial surplus.
It is the goal of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) including BCA to prevent losses due to pests and diseases while minimizing input costs.
To that end, we discuss in the following some strategies how this can be achieved.
Regarding BCA, ASEAN SAS has conducted various field trials and demonstrations in different food and cash crops, including:
- Control of plant diseases in rice and vegetables using Trichoderma (Cambodia).
- Control of flea beetle using Bacillus thuringiensis var. tenebrionis and entomopathogenic nematodes in cabbage (Thailand, Brunei Darussalam).
- Control of fruit fly (Bactrocera species) in fruit trees by mass trapping using attractants (Indonesia).
- Control of stem borers in rice using sex pheromones (Indonesia).
- Control of coffee berry borer by mass trapping with attractants (Indonesia).
Field experience of ASEAN SAS has shown that with regard to input costs and in relation to crop productivity application of BCA are competitive or even cheaper than synthetic inputs.
Because farmers mis– and overuse synthetic inputs, the alleged advantage of synthetics of being cheaper does not result in higher income of farmers. On the contrary, farmers do experience losses, if the balance between input costs and crop productivity is not right. Degraded soils and pesticide-induced phytotoxicity further attest to this approach as being unsustainable.
The boxes on this page present examples of simplified profit and loss sheets for rice and vegetables (cabbage). For instance, case studies in cabbage have shown that input costs (including labor) varied between 121% (effectively a loss) and 55% of the revenue (see box on the right).
In rice, input costs varied between 56% and 86% of the revenue in an inter-country comparison (see below). However, productivity of rice is much lower than that of cabbage or other vegetables. Hence, input costs are much more critical in rice and every measure should be taken to reduce costs.
Because BCAs like Trichoderma not only reduce crop losses due to plant disease but also increase yields (productivity), these fungi are very well suited to improve revenue. If Trichoderma is properly applied with compost, it can reduce or substitute expensive synthetic fertilizer.
In view of its soil health promoting properties Trichoderma is a truly sustainable approach.