Rice without pesticides

2 OCTOBER 2009

A CSU expert in pest management is lending a hand to help control insect pests in South East Asia that are devastating the region's main food crop, rice.

CSU Professor of Applied Ecology, Geoff Gurr.A Charles Sturt University (CSU) expert in pest management is lending a hand to help control insect pests in South East Asia that are devastating the region’s main food crop, rice.
 
CSU Professor of Applied Ecology, Geoff Gurr, is working with an international team to develop new methods for insect control that minimise the use of insecticides. He is also a member of the EH Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation.
 
“Various pests that attack rice such as planthoppers are now difficult to control because they have developed a resistance to chemicals due to the overuse of pesticides,” Professor Gurr said.  
 
“As these resistant insects can migrate hundreds of kilometres between countries, the threat to rice is extremely widespread. It is now so serious that the Asia Development Bank (ADB) has made a multi-million dollar investment in finding solutions to this problem for rice farmers in the region.”
 
In response to the threat, a new research project led by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) that includes Professor Gurr now is looking into developing new methods to increase biodiversity and natural biological control in eastern and southern China, Vietnam and Thailand. The research areas cover many hectares involving multiple farm families.
 
“We are developing a new approach for pest control called ‘ecological engineering’,” Gurr said.
 
“Unlike genetic engineering which many consumers are uneasy about, ecological engineering involves introducing carefully-chosen plant diversity onto farms.
 
The devastating rice planthopper. Image courtesy IRRI.“For example, we have introduced sesame to be planted around rice fields and sesame flowers provide nectar that is fed upon by beneficial insects. This has multiple benefits: farmers have an additional crop in sesame seeds, and during the growing season the sesame acts as a ‘nursery’ for predators and parasites of the pests.  Rice farms can then harbour large numbers of ‘good’ insects so when pests arrive they are more likely to be eaten before they breed and damage crops.”
 
Professor Gurr has been researching ‘clean and green’ pest control methods for over 15 years, working with crops as diverse as rice, grapevines, potatoes and lucerne.
 
An important part of IRRI-ADB project is the emphasis on high farmer participation in the research.
 
“Dozens of farm families are involved and we aim to make a real impact on their economic viability and health by providing better pest control with fewer sprays,” Gurr concluded.

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