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Published: 07 March 2014

CES Professor highlights need for new approach to IPM

Professor Stephen Morse’s research into the reasons for low adoption of Integrated Pest Management in developing countries points the way to a ‘ground up’ approach.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an approach to crop protection from pests and diseases that aims to minimise the use of pesticides through a range of strategies such as crop rotation, planting naturally pest-resistant crops and using pesticides only where necessary. First introduced in the 1960s, IPM has long been promoted as the best way to grow crops for maximum profitability and minimum environmental impact.

However nearly 20 years ago, Professor Stephen Morse, Surrey’s Chair in Systems Analysis for Sustainability and a pioneer of sustainable assessment methodologies, identified a problem. Despite the undoubted benefits in theory, many farmers – particularly in the developing world – were not adopting IPM practices. Professor Morse’s book, ‘Integrated Pest Management – Ideals and Realities in Developing Countries’ (Lynne, Rienner, 1997), which highlighted a variety of obstacles to IPM implementation faced by farmers in the developing world, was met with hostility at the time from those involved in IPM research and promotion.

Two decades later, Professor Morse’s view has been vindicated by a new research survey he has carried out with a team of specialists from CGIAR (the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research) and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture. The resulting paper, ‘Obstacles to integrated pest management adoption in developing countries’, was published in PNAS in February.

IPM professionals and practitioners from 96 countries were asked to name the main obstacles to IPM adoption in their countries. Respondents from developing countries highlighted fundamental issues such as insufficient training, lack of community support, low levels of education and – crucially – the difficulty of implementation. For high-income nations, perceived obstacles were more likely to be a shortage of well-qualified IPM experts and the dominance of the pesticide industry rather than difficulties with the day-to-day implementation of IPM.

“This new piece of empirical research clearly demonstrates the viewpoint of subsistence farmers in Africa, Latin America and Asia when it comes to IPM. Faced with recurrent problems such as challenging climatic conditions, water shortages, issues with soil fertility and erosion, and a lack of or expensive labour, it is perhaps not surprising that these farmers have difficulty adopting IPM in the format perceived by scientists,” explains Professor Morse.

The results can be devastating: the research paper highlights that crop losses to pests average 40 to 50 per cent in developing countries, compared to 25 to 30 per cent in high income countries. The solution, Professor Morse believes, is to work more closely with farmers in the developing world to develop simpler, more workable ways of reducing crop pest problems.

“We need a more organic, ‘ground up’ approach in order to be successful; we can’t say ‘we have the answer’ and simply set out to impose our solutions upon them,” he says. “In fact you could argue that many of these farmers have been doing their own indigenous version of IPM for generations, gradually identifying which crop varieties are least likely to be pest-infested for example.”

Professor Morse is currently working on one such method, with yam (Dioscorea rotundata) in West Africa, as part of a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation project. “We’ve found that by cutting a yam tuber into pieces and planting each piece after dipping it into dilute pesticide, we can grow ‘clean seed’ yams, which limits pest and disease attacks,” he says. “This type of approach is easy to adopt and can provide yield and economic benefits while at the same time limiting the use of more environmentally damaging and toxic pesticides.”

During his career, Professor Morse has been involved in research and sustainable development projects across Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa and Asia. He has helped to pioneer a number of participatory methodologies for sustainability assessment, including Triple Task. He joined Surrey’s Centre for Environmental Strategy in 2010.

Obstacles to integrated pest management adoption in developing countries’ was published by PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA) in February 2014.