The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is trying to develop ecological engineering to fight pests.
Dr. Geoff Gurr, Professor of Applied Ecology, Charles Sturt University (CSU), Australia, working with the IRRI team says they are trying to use helpful plants and 'good' insects to naturally protect rice in South East Asia.
Professor Gurr has been researching 'clean and green' pest control methods for over 15 years, working with crops as diverse as rice, grapevines, potatoes and lucerne.
"Various pests that attack rice, such as planthoppers, are now difficult to control because they have developed a resistance to chemicals due to the overuse of pesticides," he said.
"As these resistant insects can migrate hundreds of kilometres between countries, the threat to rice is extremely widespread. It is now so serious that the Asia Development Bank (ADB) has made a multi-million dollar investment in finding solutions to this problem for rice farmers in the region."
In response to the threat, the IRRI is looking into developing new methods to increase biodiversity and natural biological control in eastern and southern China, Vietnam and Thailand. The research areas cover many hectares involving multiple farm families.
"We are developing a new approach for pest control called 'ecological engineering'," Gurr said.
"Unlike genetic engineering which many consumers are uneasy about, ecological engineering involves introducing carefully-chosen plant diversity onto farms.
"For example, we have introduced sesame to be planted around rice fields and sesame flowers provide nectar that is fed upon by beneficial insects. This has multiple benefits: farmers have an additional crop in sesame seeds, and during the growing season the sesame acts as a 'nursery' for predators and parasites of the pests. Rice farms can then harbour large numbers of 'good' insects so when pests arrive they are more likely to be eaten before they breed and damage crops," Prof. Gurr added.