Safer agrichemical practices for Laos and Vietnam

05 June 2022
An image of several green mangoes, on cut branches, being held by a farmer.

ACIAR is supporting research to gather information on how agrichemicals are being used in Laos and Vietnam to develop safer, more effective farming practices.

Agrichemicals help to control pests, disease and weeds – supporting crop growth and food security around the world. But applying pesticides and fertilisers incorrectly can create risks for farmers, consumers and the environment.

The project brings together research teams from Laos, Vietnam and Australia to identify gaps between ‘best practice’ and approaches currently being used. This data will be used to inform the development of safer and more efficient agrichemical practices.

Dr Lucy Carter, Senior Research Scientist at CSIRO and Project Lead, explained: ‘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.’

Literature reviews have been undertaken for both Laos and Vietnam. They focused on identifying 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 developed’, said Dr Clemens Grünbühel, Research Program Manager for Social Systems at ACIAR.

The literature reviews, and a cross-country comparison of findings, showed that agricultural practices are intensifying as the sector becomes more commercial, climate change affects land-use options, and rates of pests and diseases rise.

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 In-Country Research Partner, said farmers are using pesticides to improve their yields, reduce costs and increase profitability. Better knowledge of how to apply and handle chemicals means more efficient usage, protecting farmer livelihoods.

Government bodies in Laos and Vietnam are committed to reducing harmful use of agrichemicals, but face challenges in sharing information with physically remote groups of farmers.

Product providers also have a role to play. Product formulation, labelling, and retail availability needs to align with best practice standards.

Consumers are highly influential, so educating them on food safety is crucial, said Dr Phonevilay Sinavong, Researcher at the National Agriculture and Forestry Institute of Laos: ‘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.’

Project teams have recently undertaken interviews with local agrichemical users and traders, district and provincial-level agricultural employees, local leaders, associations and advisory service officers. Analysis from these sessions will help to build a full picture of how decisions on agrichemical use are being made.

Learn more via the ACIAR website.