Fertilisers and pesticides – known collectively as agrichemicals – help to control pests, disease and weeds. They support crop growth and food security around the world.
But improper distribution and use can create risks for farmers, consumers, the broader community and the environment.
An ACIAR-supported project is bringing together research teams from Australia, Laos and Vietnam to understand how agrichemicals are currently being accessed and used – and identify gaps between these approaches and ‘best practice’ that can help to protect crop production into the future.
Pesticides, fertiliser use
While institutional advice and regulations exists in both Laos and Vietnam, little has been documented about compliance and what drives agrichemical use in different production systems and contexts.
This project aims to document both the current policies and the frameworks that are in place across the different nations. It also aims to answer the questions of what influences farmers to use agrichemicals, and why. The project examined drivers, influences and attitudes towards agrichemicals.
Dr Lucy Carter, Senior Research Scientist at CSIRO, and the project leader, explains: ‘If we can understand how farmers balance risks, production pressure and family wellbeing, we can start to think about how to maximise incentives and support for safe practice around agrichemical use.’
The project brings together researchers from Laos (National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute, National University of Laos), Vietnam (Plant Protection Research Institute, National University of Agriculture, National Institute of Medicinal Materials) and Australia (CSIRO). They will gather data to inform the development of safer and more efficient agrichemical practices.
Researchers have conducted literature reviews on farmer use of agrichemicals in Laos and Vietnam. They identified current policies, regulations and conceptual frameworks, relevant institutions as well as patterns, practices and drivers of agrichemical use.
The project is laying the foundation for understanding how farmers use agrichemicals so that environmentally safe and healthy use of chemical inputs in agriculture can be ensured in the future.
Dr Clemens Grünbühel
Research Program Manager for Social Systems at ACIAR.
The literature review and a cross-country comparison of findings have shown that agricultural practices are intensifying. With farming in both countries becoming more commercial, and as climate change increasingly affects land-use options and the incidence of pest and disease outbreaks, farmers need tools, training and support that can help them maintain crop production and use agrichemicals safely.
The use of agrichemicals is also being affected by changes in labour availability. As individuals migrate from rural to more urban areas, a reduced workforce means more interest in labour-saving technologies.
Oula Bouphakaly, Assistant Professor of Agriculture at the National University of Laos and the project’s in-country research partner, says farmers are increasingly relying on agrichemicals to maintain yields and profitability, but the risks of using them are not being managed adequately to ensure environmental sustainability and guard human health. Better knowledge of how to apply and handle chemicals could protect farmers’ lives and livelihoods.
Agrichemical manufacturers and retailers also have a role to play. Product formulation, labelling and retail availability needs to align with best-practice standards to help ensure farmers have access to accurate information to make informed decisions on agrichemical use.
‘One of the solutions for promoting safe use of agrichemicals is educating consumers. Consumers showing concern for food safety influences how producers use these chemicals,’ says Dr Phonevilay Sinavong, researcher at the National Agriculture and Forestry Institute of Laos.
All consumers want food that is safe to eat. Better financial incentives, access to safer products and information about the benefits of low-intensity agrichemicals could give farmers more scope to explore changing their use of these products. Linking food safety with safe agrichemical use and sustainable crop management practices could help to incentivise more consumers to pay premiums.
This needs to go hand in hand with better protective equipment availability and practices to ensure the safety of farmers. Education for producers and retailers is needed to ensure farmers understand the risks, as well as options available to them when applying fertilisers and pesticides.
Building a full picture
Project teams have conducted interviews with local agrichemical users and traders, district and provincial-level agricultural employees, local leaders, associations and advisory service officers.
Responses will help the project team build a fuller picture of how decisions on agrichemical use – by farmers, traders and other local stakeholders – are being made. Alongside policies and frameworks, understanding market dynamics, consumer expectations and the role of product makers, new data from the project will inform approaches to agrichemical practices for Laos and Vietnam into the future.