A recent study has found that integrated pest management programs can experience significant lags in their implementation due to slow ‘information diffusion’ within farmer communities. Cooperation between farmers in developing countries was found to be key to ensure the successful coordinated implementation of such programs.
Integrated pest management (IPM) programs are biological approaches to dealing with invasive pests without using expensive and environmentally damaging pesticides. These can range from using pest traps, erecting insect barriers or introducing natural predators that prey only upon the pests and can fit into the ecosystem without any undesirable effects.
The study, published last week in PLoS Computational Biology, has found that these IPM programs are adversely affected by slow information diffusion within farming communities. In this case ‘information diffusion’ refers to the movement of knowledge from the scientists in charge of the project, to the individual farmers implementing this knowledge on their farms. The success of IPM programs depends on the fast information diffusion to farmers to allow a coordinated response to invasive pests. A coordinated response can eradicate an invasive pest, however a patchy response will leave small areas where the pest will still exist.
The researchers surveyed approximately 300 farmers in the Ecuadorian Andes who were part of a regional IPM program. They asked the farmers about their experiences in learning about the IPM program and their perspectives on teaching this to other farmers.
The trained farmers with a knowledge of the IPM program cited short term costs as an obstacle to information diffusion. They argued that by spending time training other farmers, who did not know how to implement the IPM program, they would experience an increase in pest infestation in their own land. However the researchers found that this cooperation paid off in the long term as it meant that there was a decreased pest infestation within the local community.
Information diffusion was found to be important in the coordinated implementation of IPM programs. The study suggests that future IPM programs in developing countries should include a short term educational effort that trains local farmers of the techniques needed and the benefits to themselves in training other local farmers.
Plantwise is aiming to make information available to farmers in two ways – face-to-face via a network of plant clinics in the developing world and internationally via a comprehensive global knowledge bank. This information includes distribution data, diagnostic tools and treatment advice using biological, cutural and chemical methods. We are working to alleviate the problems mentioned in the study above by encouraging fast information diffusion to farmers to allow a coordinated response to crop pests and diseases.