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Farmers in class to save crops

Farmers in class to save crops

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

fields."

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.

"We

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.

It

was launched last year after being recommended by an international conference of

experts, who met in Phnom Penh and approved by the Ministry of

Agriculture.

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

trainers".

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

indiscriminately.

She said: "We show how crops can be monitored closely

and how to make an accurate diagnosis if something is going wrong.

"For

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.

Hickey said:

"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.

"The

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.

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