LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – Is insect control in agriculture profitable?
For all the advances in agricultural pest control, insects still continue to exact a heavy toll on vegetable crops grown in highland Cordillera and rice grown elsewhere in the Philippines, while farmers have to contend with pesticide exposure that often results in fatal consequences, according to studies.
For instance, a research conducted by Los Banos-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in cooperation with the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) found yield losses of 2.1 tons per hectare on non-resistant varieties at experiment stations.
For resistant rice, losses came up to 1.9 tons per hectare. A study conducted in Pangasinan found losses of four per cent in the first crop and as much as 19 per cent in the second crop.
Another study comparing yields between crops with high insect control and those covered by present farmers’ practices found a gap of 0.6 ton per hectare in wet season trials in Nueva Ecija, Laguna and Camarines Sur. During the dry season, the gap rose to 0.8 tons per hectare.
Another wet season study conducted in Nueva Ecija found yield difference between insect-protected and unprotected plots was 2.4 tons per hectare. Which brings back the query, “Is insect control profitable?”
Government agriculturists tried to explain economics of insect control in the country and said it “refers to soil incorporation of a systemic insecticide.”
If the threshold is defined to imply that lack of control, once the threshold is reached, will result in crop damage exceeding the cost of control, then threshold treatment is profitable.
However, such does not hold true, always. For instance, out of the researches mentioned, three economic thresholds resulted in negative net returns.
Such a finding implies that threshold level must depend not only on the insect behavior per se, but also on the insecticide and crop prices. Other environmental factors that tend to modify anticipated yield potential must also be taken in anticipation, explain government savants.
If a threshold concept is to be implemented, a farmer’s knowledge will also have to be updated, researchers who conducted the experiments elaborate. Farmers need to know and identify insects and what appropriate insecticide to use in controlling these.
Institutional constraints also put a heavy burden on farmers. For one, the type of land contract dictates the incentive to apply insecticide. An owner-cultivator would have incentives different from that of a leaseholder. They would receive different returns even if their yield as affected by insect control would be the same.
Likewise, the reversion of lease-holding to share tenancy is an influencing factor.
Customarily, harvesting in Philippine agricultural rice fields like in the lowlands and elsewhere in the country is usually on a share basis – one-sixth or one-seventh of the yield, or, whatever agreement is set by gentleman handshake.
Sharing with the harvesters takes place before the sharing with a landlord. Hence, the landlord and tenant, under, say, 50-50 share contract would have only 43 per cent of the yields, each.
Then farmers will have to consider the cost of borrowing the funds needed to buy insecticide. If he is covered by government-initiated programs, like the previous Masagana 99, the farmer pays 13 per cent a year.
But if a farmer borrows from other sources, like the banks and other agricultural lending institutions, chances are, the farmer will end up paying more.
Researchers traced the impact of tenure contracts, harvest shares and interest costs as institutional constraints on insect control. Added net returns to insect control disappears when constraints were considered.
Such being unattractive to share tenants, the researchers said the farmers would rather use traditional insect control methods.
On another front, Dr. Jinky Leilanie Lu, of the National Institute of Health, University of the Philippines (UP), investigated pesticide exposure factors among vegetable farmers in Benguet and arrived at a conclusion that “pesticide use is prevalent among farmers in Benguet . . . with unsafe work practices that predisposed farmers to health-related problems.”
The study of Lu, titled “Total Pesticide Exposure Calculation Among Vegetable Farmers in Benguet, Philippines,” was a cross-sectional effort involving 211 respondent-farmers and 37 farms. Before the study commenced, Lu, accompanied by other medical doctors, collected health data of the respondents before the structured study started.
The endeavor was in collaboration with the Benguet Local Government Units (LGUs) that took the task of coordinating with the farmers and the research’s ethical clearance approved by the National Institute of Health.
Respondent-farmers revealed they utilized pesticide in their farms in an average 1.9 days per week of which the mean total application time computes at 3.47 hours. The mean amount of pesticide used in an application was 21.35 liters per application.
Respondents also told Lu that in an average year, they regularly do 2.3 cropping seasons, with a mean of 3.84 months per cropping season.
Factors relating to pesticide exposure was revealed by farmers themselves as 72 per cent of the respondents detailed incidents of spills while in their process of loading, mixing and spraying.
The study traced that 41.7 % re-entered recently sprayed planting fields which definitely should be a “no-no,” 37.4 % had exposure because of defective backpack sprayers and 31.8% immediately exposed as they sprayed against the wind.
44.5% revealed they experienced having wiped sweat from their faces with pesticide-contaminated pieces of cloth.
On the other hand, 88.4% or 176 of the farmers reported they wore protective equipment in the process of handling pesticide. Further analysis by the research revealed however “they did nor frequently use such equipment, nor had adequate gear to fully protect themselves.”
One-hundred forty-two or 67% never used coveralls, the same pattern discovered among all kinds of personal protective equipment (PPE), with the exception of rubber boots (botas) used by 75.5% of them.
94% of the respondents revealed they worked with or used pesticide in their lifetime and 16.4 % utilized pesticide in their own households. Vegetables commonly grown by the respondents are potatoes (64. 4%), cabbage, (63.7%) and carrots (36.8%).
Majority (87%) reported to local health authority of their exposure or “occupational exposure” as medicine terms it, to pesticide during the conduct of their farm work while 13% were accidentally exposed.
Predominant exposure of the researched group – which gives a glimpse of the overall picture which Benguet farmers face – was liquid pesticide mist (56.5%). The most common route of pesticide entry was respiratory (68.9%) followed by dermal or skin (60.5%) and ocular or affecting the nerves (38%).
Clearly, the study stressed about certain risk factors like spills while mixing pesticide, re-entering recently sprayed areas, spraying against the wind, use of damaged backpack sprayer, spills on the back, as determinants to pesticide exposure.
Farmers were also traced having used inappropriate clothing during spraying, with gloves the only commonly used PPE (personal, protective equipment).
Respondents responded to non-adherence to PPE due to few resources to afford PPE, extreme heat during spraying, uncomfortable to use and peer-related factors.
Kinds of pesticides commonly used by the respondents scientifically classified by the research, are, pyrethroid (46.4%), organophosphates (60.5%) and carbamates (21.3%). Pyrethroid has in its composition, fenvalerate, to make it a synthetic insecticide. Methamidophos is an active ingredient of organophosphate and mancozeb present in carbamates.
Seventy-four per cent of the respondents became ill because of work for the last 12 months preceding the study, with common symptoms being headache (64.1%), muscle pain (61.1%), cough (45.5%), weakness (42.2%), eye pain (39.9%), chest pain (37.4%) and reddening of the eyes (33.8%).
A pesticide formulation – from pouring, mixing and spraying – is a significant factor for human exposure, the research emphasized and utmost care must be exercised during these procedures.
Dr. Lu said in the study that there are many health symptoms associated with pesticide exposure. One, is the evidence that weight loss could be a possible effect of chronic pesticide poisoning. Another is decreased body mass, of which seven among the respondents manifested.
Respiratory symptoms such as coughing was also pointed out by the research as being associated to carbamate exposure and prevalence of asthma among the non-asthmatic farmers.
It was suggested by the research that chronic effects of pesticide cited by the World Health Organization (WHO) such as carcinogenic effects, poor reproductive outcomes, neurologic and respiratory disorders, impairment of the immune system and birth defects be seriously noted, as pesticides, by its very nature are potentially toxic, these needing to be used safely and disposed of, properly.
Pesticide is Benguet’s death leading cause of self-poisoning.