Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is IPM?
  2. Do you promote pesticide use?
  3. Why are universities involved?
  4. What is your stance on GM (genetically modified) crops?
  5. Don’t local farmers around the world already know the best practices for their locale?
  6. Do you really transfer any technology, or is it just training sessions?
  7. Is IPM making a lasting difference? How can you tell?
  8. Why does IPM need to continue to be funded? Haven’t you made your program self-sustaining by now?
  9. Why include gender in your program?
  10. If it so important that women be a part of IPM projects, how do you ensure that?

1. What is IPM?

Simply put, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a holistic approach to reducing damage caused by pests without harming the environment. The IPM Innovation Lab, or IPM IL, is a large, multi-year effort supported by USAID to introduce and maintain IPM best practices in developing countries around the world. Among the approaches embraced by IPM are: the adoption of pest-resistant varieties of crops; biological and physical control methods; environmental modification; biopesticides; and when absolutely necessary, non-residual, environmentally-friendly and low mammalian-toxic chemical pesticides.

IPM is needed in all areas of the developing world. Pests – insects, diseases, weeds, vertebrates – respect no borders and spread through plant and animal migration, wind and water. Human activity, including trade in plant and animal products, also contributes to this expansion.

By addressing IPM, researchers have found that they touch a whole spectrum of development issues. IPM is, in fact, such a powerful tool that it allows for:

  • reducing pesticide use
  • reducing crop losses
  • reducing the loss of biodiversity
  • increasing farmer income
  • making export crops more attractive
  • reducing damage to natural ecosystems
  • improving research & education capabilities
  • increasing the involvement of women in decision making

In short, IPM IL raises the standard of living while creating sustainable development.

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2. Do you promote pesticide use?

No! IPM is not part of the problem – it is a solution! In fact, most governments require IPM. We strive to find alternative methods to pesticides that are environmentally safe and healthy, such as biological control, biopesticides and pest-resistant crop varieties. Pesticides are recommended only as a last resort, and then only for temporary use, when no alternatives are available.

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3. Why are universities involved?

Universities are the pioneers in research, extension, and teaching. Universities conduct research on several components of IPM and show how they apply to a particular pest or commodity, as well as how they affect the environment. Universities provide training for future scientists and extension personnel in IPM. Universities also have an advantage in being able to broadly disseminate information. Extension services transfer the technology to stakeholders. Thus, universities are major players in IPM.

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4. What is your stance on GM (genetically modified) crops?

GM crops play an important role in increasing the production of food and fiber. Pest-resistant crops, such as Bt cotton for boll weevil in the United States and for bollworms in other parts of the world, are already being used, and herbicide-resistant corn in the United States is under cultivation. Increase in crop yields developed during the green revolution is already tapering off, and utilization of GM crops is one of the best options available to meet the global demand for more food. IPM IL abides by the rules and regulations governing GM crops in participating countries as well as by the rules set by USAID.

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5. Don’t local farmers around the world already know the best practices for their locale?

The knowledge of farmers in the developing world is limited to traditional crops under subsistence farming conditions. With the advent of globalization and the increase in trade and transport, numerous crop pests and diseases have spread all over the world, requiring scientific knowledge to manage them. IPM is a knowledge-based program. Farmers need to be trained in the newly developed technologies in order to better tackle pest problems.

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6. Do you really transfer any technology, or is it just training sessions?

We really transfer technologies! Here are some examples: training farmers in the grafting of eggplant and tomato scions onto bacterial wilt-resistant rootstocks in Bangladesh, Nepal, Philippines, Indonesia, and Uganda; implementing host-free periods to reduce the incidence of vector-borne virus diseases of tomato and pepper crops in the Caribbean and Western Africa; introducing cultural practices such as mulching to reduce disease and weed incidence in Eastern Africa; solarization* to reduce weeds in vegetable crops in Honduras; the releasing of parasitoids and predators to control pests in vegetable crops in Bangladesh, Philippines and Indonesia; using predaceous mites to control phytophagous mites in strawberries in the Philippines and Ecuador; and creating a bioagent rearing facility at a university in Ethiopia. Training methods are used to disseminate this information to farmers.

*Solarization involves piling dirt up, covering the pile with plastic, and then waiting for a number of weeks for the dirt pile to heat up under the sun, the heat killing nematodes, bacteria and fungi as well as weed seeds; in effect, for the heat of the sun to sterilize the dirt.

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7. Is IPM making a lasting difference? How can you tell?

It is indeed making a lasting difference – to the tune of millions of dollars of extra income for developing countries each year! In studies that looked at just some of our projects, researchers found that over the years, these projects generated $388 million in benefits. For example, the adoption of eggplant and tomato grafting in Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Indonesia has increased production several-fold. Based on the success of this practice in these countries, Nepal, Uganda, Mali and other countries adopted this technique and in Mali, it led to at least $21 million of net benefits. And the rearing and releasing of bioagents to control the invasive Parthenium weed in Ethiopia has been so successful that the project has been expanded to Tanzania and Kenya, and a new bioagent is being tested for release.

We assess the impact of IPM by noticing increased production, less use of pesticides, people in better health, and greater exporting of crops.

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8. Why does IPM need to continue to be funded? Haven’t you made your program self-sustaining by now?

We are currently in the Phase V of our projects, focusing in on two regions of the world, East Africa and Southeast Asia, in seven Feed-the-Future countries. This is the first time we have worked in some of these countries, and we need time and funding to set up infrastructure, educate and train locals, and travel. We also support local students in obtaining their masters of PhDs.

To feed an increasing world population with limited arable land, per acre yield needs to be increased. People also expect healthy food to be produced with minimal or no adverse impact to the environment. IPM plays a major role in increasing crop productivity, improving the quality of produce, and in maintaining environmental standards. Furthermore, in recent years, several invasive species of insects, disease agents and weeds have been spreading throughout the world causing serious damage to the environment, health, and the world economy. As these new problems arise, funding is needed to research IPM solutions to these problems. And with a rapidly changing climate, modeling temperature as well as disease spread are important weapons in the fight against food insecurity.

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9. Why include gender in your program?

Everything we do in life, whether we are aware of it or not, is gendered. Keeping this in mind in developing countries is especially important as access to resources, use of time, and ability to take certain actions are governed by gender considerations. In many countries, the “farmer” is thought of as male even though in practice, a majority of women work the land. Without ensuring that women participate and have access to information, IPM programs can reinforce the marginalization of women. A focus on men’s crops in IPM may inadvertently create livelihood hardships for women.

Women’s important role in decision-making and allocation of household finances in many cultures alone warrants targeting them in IPM research and training. What we know is that men and women spend money differently based on their different interests, risk exposure, and perceptions. Yet there are many obstacles to incorporating women in IPM programs around the world, ranging from traditional culture to the fact that gender influences access to resources such as land, labor, education and credit – all important to the adoption of IPM.

Farm tasks are often gendered, with some carried out exclusively by women and others by men. Crops too are gendered, with peanuts or groundnut considered a women’s crop in some places, and men’s in others. These can change as migration, market forces, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and other factors alter labor patterns, sometimes leaving women in charge of farm tasks that were previously men’s responsibilities and for which they are not prepared.

In Albania, men spend the summer as migrant laborers, leaving the women behind to look after the farms. In Bangladesh, women may not work in open fields, but do cultivate vegetables and care for animals. Agricultural knowledge is also gendered. For instance, in the Kumi district of Uganda, men told researchers that women did a better job of identifying an indigenous weed that looks very similar to finger millet at the seedling stage.

Studies conducted across all IPM IL sites show that women have an important role in pest management. When scientists fail to take women’s knowledge into consideration, they lose vital information and even reduce their chances of success. In Mali for instance, one approach to combating the Tomato yellow leaf-curl virus destroying tomatoes and peppers is to apply a “no-host period.” This means that farmers wait a couple of months between plantings of these two crops in order to reduce opportunities for virus to spread from the white fly that carries it. Since the virus can only live on tomatoes and peppers, when the farmers plant other vegetables for these months, the virus dies out in these areas. Yet if only men (and men’s fields) participate in IPM projects while women and their home gardens are ignored, the no-host period does not work, as the virus would continue to proliferate on these uninitiated fields, and when the no-host periods ended, the white fly would spread the virus to the tomatoes and peppers again.

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10. If it so important that women be a part of IPM projects, how do you ensure that?

IPM projects must begin by identifying women’s needs and interests and not assuming they are the same as men’s. For instance, sometimes the crops or varieties men consider to be a priority do not even register in women’s rankings of key crops. Therefore, the first thing is to be sure women are included in the project from the start and that the obstacles to their participation and benefits are recognized and addressed. Women and men alike must be interviewed, and education about IPM should be provided to male and female farmers in various accessible formats, and women’s networks, literacy, mobility, and cultural constraints taken into account. Women have multiple roles beyond agriculture that include care-giving and household chores, so their responsibilities must be accommodated. Sometimes, this means childcare must be provided and IPM activities timed to fit into women’s schedule of daily obligations. In some settings, cultural sensitivities require that women interview women, or that women be interviewed separately from men and participate in training and other activities in women-only groups. It also makes sense to target farm decision-makers and farm families, rather than male farmers.

As with everything else in IPM, the specifics of gender issues, gendered knowledge and gendered crops and tasks relevant to IPM are site-specific; a high degree of variability may exist within a single region and even between households. Additionally, changing demographics due to AIDS, migration, and other factors mean that any given site may be subject to new gender dynamics from one agricultural season to another. Stereotyping “men,” “women,” “Africans,” “Muslims,” etc. with fixed characteristics or assuming that “gender” can be learned once and for all is underestimating the complexity of culture and the human experience and will not help achieve IPM goals.

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