UCCE advisor takes IPM and pesticide safety to Bangladesh

Oct 27, 2015

The South Asian country of Bangladesh, bordered on three sides by India, contains more than 22 million acres of agricultural land, with the No. 1 crop being rice. The average farm size is one acre or less, and each farm produces about 4,000 pounds of rice per year.

Vonny Barlow, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) entomology expert and affiliated advisor with UC ANR's Statewide Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program, traveled to Bangladesh in September to instruct pesticide dealers, pesticide retailers, rice farmers and other growers in Bangladesh on basic IPM practices and the safe and effective use of pesticides.

The trip was funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the Winrock International Farmer-to-Farmer Project.

Barlow, a UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor in Riverside County, said the experience in Bangladesh gave him a new appreciation for the U.S. extension system.

"Without the communication arm, the outreach arm, UC researchers can produce all the information they want, but if it doesn't bridge the gap to the user, its usefulness is lost," Barlow said.

IPM focuses on the long-term prevention of pests by integrating several methods to manage a problem. Pesticides are used only when needed and in combination with other effective methods.

Barlow found that Bangladeshi farmers had virtually no pest management information available to them. They also didn't have access to pesticide labels or safety data sheets (SDSs) and were using pesticides in an unsafe manner. Barlow noted that farmers would sometimes apply pesticides twice a day because they knew nothing about the appropriate application rate, the time to wait before entering a treated field, or the time that must be allowed between spraying and harvesting. Retailers did not have enough information about the pesticides they were selling and could not pass on any safety information to the farmers.

“There's a real need for education here. The farmers are the ones suffering,” Barlow said. "The outreach of UC IPM is invaluable in situations like this.”

During his 18-day stay in Bangladesh, Barlow presented five all-day workshops - mostly to pesticide retailers, but also to growers - teaching them basic pest management principles and pesticide safety. Barlow directed much of his outreach efforts toward women retailers who are in the business to make extra money for their families.

“I had limited time and resources, but my goal was to demonstrate that there are better alternatives to their current practices," Barlow said. His hope was that “farmers would start using pesticides in a more safe and effective manner.”

Part of Barlow's goal was to try to help growers make a connection between health and applying pesticides safely. When he asked workshop participants if any of them knew someone who had gotten sick from pesticides, virtually everyone raised their hands. However, Barlow noted that they had no real sense that their farming practices were causing health problems. A large part of each of each workshop was devoted to showing examples of personal protective equipment (PPE) that applicators could wear to help reduce pesticide exposure.

Barlow found that his workshops were very well received and that there was a genuine interest in what he was teaching. Most farmers and retailers had cell phones with Internet access, so Barlow was able to share pest management and pesticide safety information from the UC IPM website with them.

Barlow hopes to return to Bangladesh one day and plans to stay in touch with U.S. AID representatives to see what impact he made during his short visit.

“It was a rewarding experience, and I left with a real sense of satisfaction," Barlow said. "I was glad I did it.”

The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.

Author: Cheryl Reynolds

By Cheryl Reynolds
Author - Interactive Learning Developer