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IPM Packages Streamline Crop-Pest Solutions in Developing Countries

collecting Desmodium

Farmers collect Desmodium in Ethiopia, part of a push-pull strategy within an integrated pest management program. In many developing countries IPM “packages”—which bundle a range of solutions for multiple crop pest issues, from the time of soil preparation to harvest and tailored to local conditions—are making IPM adoption easier for farmers with limited training or resources. (Photo by Tadale Tefera)

By Anamika Sharma, Ph.D.

Anamika Sharma, Ph.D.

Anamika Sharma, Ph.D.

Plant protection comprises the management of a variety of agricultural issues, including insect pests, diseases, weeds, nematodes, and others. Integrated pest management (IPM) functions as an aspect of crop protection that enables an environmentally safe, sustainable agricultural system. When the term IPM was first formalized by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1969, it was driven by the evident negative impacts of chemical pesticide misuse and overuse. Withdrawal of many pesticides and awareness about their potentially negative impact on human and environmental health then invigorated widespread use of IPM around the globe.

Over time, IPM has endured many changes in its approach. IPM includes all possible strategies—regulation, mechanical, cultural, biological, genetic, and chemical—that are available and can be implemented to sustainably manage pests, diseases, and weeds in various ecosystems. Present-day IPM for agroecosystems involves more than just protecting plants, but it aims to conserve and promote natural enemies and minimize negative impacts on non-target organisms. Currently, the IPM paradigm also encompasses integrated pest and pollinator management (IPPM) for the co-management of pest and pollination goals.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management—housed at Virginia Tech’s Center for International Research, Education, and Development and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development—applies the concept of “IPM packages” to address crop threats in the developing world. IPM packages are holistic and promote a range of technologies to manage multiple crop pest issues from the time of soil preparation to harvest. Given farmers’ varied conditions and resources, IPM packages are seldom applied in full, but individual technologies are selected to be applied when needed. IPM packages are designed such that technologies can be adopted in a targeted location for a specific pest complex with ease and modified to suit local conditions.

Farmers who have implemented IPM package components while planting, growing, and harvesting and throughout the supply chain (including distribution) have observed enhanced yields and overall profitability. One successful example is a component of an IPM package used for management of the fruit fly Bactrocera dorsalis. Productive and profitable adoption of various IPM strategies depends on availability, affordability, effectiveness, and ease of use; hence, IPM packages are location-specific. “Inclusion of local experts and resources enables an effective and economical implementation of IPM packages in the targeted countries,” says Muni Muniappan, Ph.D., director of IPM Innovation Lab.

IPM packages address the pest management requirements of the targeted country for major crops and socioeconomic and environmental conditions and include all available approaches. These packages include the management of insect pests, diseases, weeds, and other pests for selected crops. Although alternative technologies to chemical pesticides are included in IPM packages, pesticide use is not precluded.

While IPM packages are location and crop-specific, key technologies incorporated in most packages include:

  • Soil preparation. Soil sanitation (keeping farm tools clean, removing plant debris and infected plants as soon as symptoms appear); solarization for the control of weeds, soil-borne diseases, and parasitic nematodes; use of vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhiza (a symbiotic fungus that improves overall plant health) and beneficial microbials (such as Trichoderma) to reduce disease incidence; mulching to conserve moisture.
  • Selection and treatment of seeds. Selection of registered high-quality seeds; selection of pest-resistant varieties; treatment of seeds with beneficial microbes such as Trichoderma spp. and Bacillus spp.
  • Raising seedlings in soil beds. Selecting problem-free soil; soil solarization; maintaining acid/base balance of the soil (to lower soil acidity, add lime, organic matter, or mulches; to balance alkaline soil, add products like sphagnum peat moss, aluminum, and iron sulfate); seedling grading; roguing; proper drainage; sanitation.
  • Raising seedlings in the nursery. Maintaining healthy nurseries free of pests and diseases; preparing planting trays with environmentally friendly products such as coco-peat; grafting on disease-resistant rootstock; seedling grading; roguing; sanitation.
  • Monitoring. Use of sweep net, sticky traps, pitfall traps, light traps, and pheromone traps to monitor insect pests.
  • Cultural practices. Field management (improve soil fertility, weed management, field sanitation by removing residual crop, debris, and diseased and infected plants); crop rotation; trap crops; cover crops; interplanting or intercropping; change in planting and harvesting dates to avoid diseases and pests.
  • Biological control. Adoption of augmentative, classical, or conservation biological control methods for arthropod pests and diseases, including nematodes, and weeds.
  • Botanical and biopesticides. Use of locally available botanical pesticides, such as neem and biopesticides such as Beauveria bassiana.
  • Chemical pesticides. Use of safe and approved pesticides in the targeted country.
  • Others. Use of semiochemicals for mating disruption, attract-and-kill method to manage insect pests, maintaining soil health in a crop rotation system, and managing any crop nutritional deficiency.

While many IPM technologies have been developed and applied in developed countries, where farming is often large-scale and technology-heavy, IPM packages can help adapt technologies for the developing-country context in collaboration with local scientists, NGOs, extension services, and input suppliers, among others. The components of these packages can be presented in a way that is easy to follow by farmers who have limited training or resources.

Major obstacles to transferring and adopting IPM packages in developing countries include the unavailability of recommended products such as biological control agents (including parasitoids) and biopesticides. To address this problem, the IPM Innovation Lab has helped identify biocontrol agents and encourage private and public institutions to produce them, training extension agents, NGOs, and farmers on the benefits of these agents. Similarly, some recommended biopesticides, such as Trichoderma, can be produced and marketed locally. The IPM Innovation Lab works with agricultural input providers and small-scale private entrepreneurs to help initiate production and marketing of the products, which boosts local market awareness of these environmentally friendly products.

“IPM packages offer farmers a basket of eco-friendly options to choose from that are suitable to prevailing farming conditions and agroecosystems,” says Tadele Tefera, Ph.D., Ethiopia country head of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) and an IPM Innovation Lab collaborator. “However, farmers’ agricultural practices and knowledge of insect pests in a given agroecosystem are essential for adopting successful IPM packages.”

Along with management practices, IPM packages include information about major insect pests, diseases, weeds, and other important issues for the selected crop. When major pest issues are identified, an integrated approach is developed and suggested to the farmers. Most farmers only use some of the practices initially and slowly incorporate additional ones, depending upon early successes and affordability. Nevertheless, most components of the IPM packages are adopted eventually over time. The IPM Innovation Lab conducts research on environmentally friendly strategies in targeted countries to contribute to IPM packages, such as, for example, use of entomopathogenic fungus to manage Old World bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera) on chickpea crops in Ethiopia and traps and lures to manage Old World bollworm. Based on new research, these packages are also periodically updated.

IPM packages benefit their users and create an opportunity for community involvement and economic development. They also help maintain a sustainable agroecosystem and improve human health and the environment. The IPM Innovation Lab has developed IPM packages for a range of crops, including rice, maize, lentil, tomato, cabbage, eggplant, onion, and bean, among others, with a special focus on tropical vegetable crops. To view the IPM Innovation Lab’s IPM packages developed thus far, please visit the IPM Innovation Lab website or contact rmuni@vt.edu and anamika@vt.edu.

Anamika Sharma, Ph.D., is a research associate at the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management, housed at Virginia Tech’s Center for International Research, Education, and Development. Email: anamika@vt.edu.

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