Two Sides of the Same Leaf: Controlling Pests in Cambodia

February 28, 2018
Kim FooyontphanichA Cambodian farmer working under the Pest Exclusion Nets in Battambang, Cambodia.
Innovation Lab for Pest ManagementCambodian agricultural scientists, extension agents, NGOs, and entrepreneurs learn about Trichoderma, a beneficial fungus that can control vegetable-attacking pests.

A Simple Pest Control Technology Helps Farmers Find Success

Phai Sila has been farming since she can remember, growing up in a farming family in Battambang, Cambodia.

“Agriculture has been a big part of my life,” Sila said. “I helped my parents in the field since I was very young and still continue to farm for a living after getting married and having my own children.”

South and Southeast Asia are regions with enormous potential for horticulture production, yet farmers like Sila still follow traditional farming methods that produce low yields and make farming less profitable.

One element of farming that contributes to decreased profits for smallholder farmers is the use of pesticides. While pesticides are used in many countries’ agricultural industries, for smallholder farmers in villages around the world, their cost can be prohibitively expensive. So farmers like Sila have begun exploring other pest control options.

Through support from Feed the Future, Sila and other farmers in Battambang learned how to install pest exclusion nets (PEN) to protect their crops from pests, control temperature and soil moisture, and reduce their reliance on pesticides that impact both the environment and human health.

“The PEN technology can help me reduce pesticide use in farming, protect my crops from the heat, and maintain soil moisture in the summer season,” said Sila. “The best thing I noticed after using this technology is that the number of insects that come and attack my crops is reduced by 80 percent.”

By using PEN, Sila was the only farmer in the village to successfully grow leafy vegetables this past summer. Because of the lack of vegetable supply at the local market, she earned 10 times more than in the winter season.

“The price is really good in the summer,” said Sila. “Buyers at the market could not believe that my vegetables were grown locally; they suspected that the produce was imported and went through heavy pesticide use because it looked fresh with very little damage from pests.”

Embracing Biological Pest Control to Protect Crops

Pest exclusion net technology is not the only new method of pest control being explored in Cambodia.

Beneficial bacteria, fungi and viruses are a viable alternative to chemical pesticides for controlling pests and diseases that attack cultivated crops.

Since 2009, the Feed the Future Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab has worked to control pests and diseases that affect high-value vegetable crops. The lab has identified several potential biological pesticides for protecting crops in place of chemical pesticides, but one in particular – Trichoderma – could be produced locally and has proven to be highly effective.

There was one major hurdle to introducing Trichoderma to local farmers, though: The Government of Cambodia did not have a process for registering biological pesticide use within the country.

So the Feed the Future Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab conducted a workshop in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, to educate and train local agricultural scientists, extension agents, NGOs and entrepreneurs about Trichoderma. It also helped local entrepreneurs establish companies that produce this beneficial fungus and sell it to farmers.

In collaboration with a project sponsored by the German government, the lab also worked to encourage the Cambodian government to establish a registry for biological control agents. A Trichoderma application produced by Kean Sophea, a local entrepreneur with whom the lab had worked, led to the first officially registered and locally produced biological control agent in Cambodia.

“We are happy with the government’s decision,” said Mao Canady, manager of Eco-Agri Co, Ltd, a Cambodian company that produces Trichoderma, of the new registry. “It will build trust between farmers, the private sector, and consumers.”

And because biological control agents are not only cheaper than chemical pesticides, but also generally have a much smaller impact on the soil and the environment, the future of Cambodia’s farmers looks promising.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management, led by Virginia Tech, supports improved, environmentally sustainable yields for smallholder farmers through an environmentally-friendly, sustainable approach to reducing plant and crop damage caused by pests. The lab works with researchers, scientists, extension agents, farmers, policymakers, and government officials around the world, as well as universities in the United States and national and international agriculture research centers to tackle pest problems of vegetables, fruits, cereals, and legumes.

The Feed the Future Asia Innovative Farmers Project, funded by USAID and implemented by Winrock International, transforms the lives of farmers in South and Southeast Asia by supporting the discovery, development, and dissemination of impactful innovations that help farmers boost their incomes and improve their food security. The project works to identify, test, scale and disseminate critical technologies that enable smallholder farmers to improve productivity and income sustainably.