R ice farmers are clamoring to attend field schools teaching
them how to save their crops from the ravages of pests, says Anne Hickey, who is
heading the education program.
The 25 "schools without walls" in five
provinces, are packed to capacity with enthusiastic farmers, she said.
They are part of a pyramid learning system being built to spread skills
on dealing with pests and make farmers "experts in their own
Hickey, an Australian who works for the Canadian charity
International Research and Development Center, said: "We planned to have 25
farmers in each of the schools but many of them have more than 30.
are giving farmers the knowledge to be able to come to informed decisions by
themselves on how best to protect their crops."
The program, called
Integrated Pest Management, aims to teach farmers how to identify which pests
are attacking their crops and to choose the best way to tackle them.
was launched last year after being recommended by an international conference of
experts, who met in Phnom Penh and approved by the Ministry of
The conference was concerned that the country's farmers were
using pesticides indiscriminately, reducing crop yields, destroying the
environment and causing health risks.
From her initial field trips Hickey
made a collection of "chamber of horror" photographs, which reveals the dangers
the farmers were exposing themselves to.
One shows a woman pouring out
pesticides without using protective gloves or face mask. When asked why she
didn't use them she answered, "because it's too hot."
The IPM program has
been successfully set up in other Asian countries, such as Indonesia and the
Philippines. Hickey, together with some Philippine instructors began it here by
schooling seven Ministry of Agriculture officials as her "master
The master trainers then went out to the five provinces,
Kandal, Takeo, Kompong Speu, Prey Veng and Svay Rieng, to each instruct 30 other
ministry officials in the techniques of IPM.
Their knowledge was then
passed on down the chain to farmers by setting up the field schools, with the
master trainers being on hand to supervise.
During the final phase of the
program later this year, farmers who have gone through the program will be
training other farmers in the four-month course, the length of time it takes to
grow a rice crop.
Hickey stressed that the program is not opposed to the
use of pesticides per se but teaches farmers not to use them
She said: "We show how crops can be monitored closely
and how to make an accurate diagnosis if something is going wrong.
example if the crop is not healthy it may not be anything to do with pests and
the problem could be rectified by using a fertilizer."
At the schools
farmers are taught to make insect collections and counts. Using pictures, they
learn to identify insects which are pests such as the brown plant hopper and the
rice bug and those which prey on the pests.
By monitoring the number of
the different insects they can come to an informed decision about whether
pesticides are needed.
Farmers are also taught using what Hickey calls
"insect zoos." Two rice plants are grown in a pot with a plastic bag on top, a
pest insect is put inside one and a predator in the other.
"The farmers can then watch what the insects do to the plants. Then the predator
is put in with the pest and they can see the pest being dealt with.
farmers are fascinated by the zoos and often want to take them home to show
their family and friends."
Hickey hopes the program will eventually be
extended across the whole country and believes it could play an important role
in boosting rice productivity.