Farmers in Pliken village do pest observation at the rice field. (JG Photo - Edo Karensa)

Central Java Farmers Study Insects to Protect Rice Crop


MARCH 28, 2016

Banyumas, Central Java. It was 10 a.m. and the temperature had already reached a sweltering 32 degrees in Piken village, Banyumas – some 200 kilometers from Central Java’s capital, Semarang – when five farmers entered their rice fields armed not with shovels and hoes but notepads and pens.

“I see two rove beetles [...] and four spiders here,” 45-year-old farmer Munawaroh told her colleagues, pointing at a clump of rice plants. She jotted down the findings onto her notepad, already filled with numbers.

As they pressed on, Munawaroh spotted two brown planthoppers nestling in the same clump. She scribbled some more, unfazed by the presence of what used to be considered a farmer's number one enemy.

Together the five observed a total of 10 rice clumps in the 100-square meter paddy field, counting every insect and pest they could find.

Early last year, farmers in the village embarked on an initiative called Integrated Pest Management with the help of the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization.

The program has been implemented since January 2014 in six districts across Java following a devastating brown planthopper outbreak in 2010.

Sucipto, the head of the village's farming group Sumber Rezeki II, said that understanding how the local ecosystem works is at the heart of the program.

“The farmers simply need to make sure that the pests are killed by their natural enemies. It is simple science,” he said.

Munawaroh recalled a time when all farmers in her village saw all insects as pests, relying on pesticides, which can be harmful to the farmers' health and the environment and upset the ecosystem's balance.

Through the program, she said, farmers learn the importance of spiders, rove beetles, dragonflies and ladybirds as natural predators of pests like rice stem borers and brown planthoppers, which can destroy the village's main crop, rice.

Farmers in Pliken village do pest observation at the rice field. (JG Photo - Edo Karensa)

A total of 25 farmers in the village have been trained to take samples and do observations once a week.

Each month they gather to determine whether or not pesticides are needed to keep the pests under control or whether to depend entirely on natural predators.

With the harvest season just weeks away, this upcoming monthly meeting, Munawaroh said, is bound to be full of drama, debates and arguments.

“It is just like a real battle with tactics,” said the assistant FAO representative for the program, Ageng Herianto. “The farmers gather together, discuss and decide by themselves whether to spray pesticide or not. They count their enemies, the pests, their troops, which are the pest’s natural enemies.”

Munawaroh said the meeting is also a time when farmers exchange data, discoveries, findings and knowledge.

“So far, the farmers here sprayed zero pesticide this season,” she said.

Although revenue upsurge is not the main objective of this program, the data showed that farmers in Banyumas saw their revenue increase by over 45 percent since the implementation of the program.

“The program is a matter of farmers’ behavior rather than physical development. It requires time and the participation of many stakeholders,” said Deddy Ruswansyah, a subdirectorate head of pest control at the Agriculture Ministry.

The government cannot do it on its own, Deddy added.

Editing by Nivell Rayda