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Whatever Happened to People in Integrated Pest Management?

agriculture training

However well-crafted an integrated pest management program may be, it can only be effective when the various individuals asked to carry it out are well-trained and fully committed. Formal classes on IPM practices and their benefits allow farmers to see how IPM can benefit them firsthand, rather than farmers simply being mandated to follow certain practices. (Photo credit: Flickr/U.S. Department of Agriculture, CC-BY 2.0)

By Ryan Gott, Ph.D.

Ryan C. Gott, Ph.D.

Ryan C. Gott, Ph.D.

A fantastic recent forum paper in American Entomologist titled “Whatever Happened to IPM?” and its accompanying Entomology Today blog post brought up the need to reevaluate the broad understanding and application of integrated pest management. Bob Peterson, Ph.D., and coauthors made very good points on evolving and discussing IPM. But, one integral component of successful IPM was not given great attention, nor is it mentioned in many other pieces on IPM: people. I’d like to address that gap and make the case for adding “people,” with a focus on training and education, into the IPM conversation started by Dr. Peterson and his coauthors.

The many actions in an IPM program (monitoring/scouting, management tactics, evaluation, etc.) are performed by people but are often discussed in isolation, without mention of the actors; or, people are often referenced tangentially at best. However, I have found that the missing human element can make all the difference. To earn commitment to a management program and to IPM as a whole, it is critical to

  • provide meaningful participatory training in a way that is understood by the trainee
  • acknowledge each individual’s contributions and preexisting knowledge and skills
  • explain how and why they and their actions are important
  • maintain open lines of communication.

This has been the case at Phipps Conservatory, where trainings provided to staff and volunteers, focused on each group’s applicable actions and contributions, have encouraged interest and dedication to a culture of IPM.

A great example of the potential success of incorporating some or all of these training and education considerations is the farmer field school model adopted in Southeast Asia to encourage incorporation of IPM practices for management of the brown planthopper Nilaparvata lugens. Formal classes on IPM practices and their benefits are delivered to allow farmers to see how IPM can benefit them firsthand, rather than farmers simply being mandated to follow certain practices.

This model has also been tested elsewhere for other pests. These case examples also highlight the need for training assessment, as some delivery methods may be more effective with different demographics or may be impossible due to resource or logistical constraints. If we want our understanding and practice of IPM to evolve, so too should our methods of communication and evaluation.

Here only education and training in IPM are addressed, but this makes other aspects no less important to consider. Economic, political, sociological, psychological, cultural, and geographical factors are also all wrapped into the human condition that can affect the adoption and efficacy of IPM. Until it explicitly addresses the totality of the human as well as the ecological elements involved, integrated pest management may never truly be integrated.

Ryan C. Gott, Ph.D., is an entomologist and the Associate Director of Integrated Pest Management at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter @Entemnein and Instagram @ryangott. Thanks is given to Peter Coffey for comments on a previous version of this article. Email: ryan.c.gott@gmail.com.

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