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Eco-friendly research, education touch global food suppliers

Virginia Tech has been researching and implementing integrated pest management for more than a quarter century.

Dinner plates and wallets reflect the triumphs and trials faced by food-growers and their crops from across the globe.

    Rezaul Karim (right), Virginia Tech's IPM site coordinator for Bangladesh, digs up a plant (top) and speaks to locals (bottom)

In order to combat the adverse effects caused by the pests and many common practices used for pest management, programs are designed to help reduce:

  • agricultural losses due to pests;
  • damage to natural ecosystems; and
  • pollution and contamination of food and water supplies.

"Technical, social, policy, economic, and education issues are also addressed. We also want to build local institutional capacity," said S. K. De Datta, Virginia Tech's associate provost for international affairs and director of the Office of International Research, Education, and Development (OIRED), part of Outreach and International Affairs.

In part, research and education are used to help reduce the use of and residue from pesticides used by farmers. Economic, biological, and environmental monitoring research is helping the farmers increase income and reduce overhead.

Sharing knowledge

    Four women working with plants

The Virginia Tech-led Integrated Pest Management Collaborative Research Support Program (IPM CRSP), which is funded by a $17 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is already helping people in 32 countries.

As the managing entity, OIRED is working wit 22 university partners in the United States and 62 host country institutions using research to find safe, low-cost solutions to agricultural pest problems.

To address the problems, research scientists at host country institutions collaborate with Virginia Tech researchers or other university partner researchers to investigate approaches to pest control that eliminate or minimize damage to people, livestock, other wildlife, and the environment.

Virginia Tech’s approach also recognizes the critical role of gender in human cultures and incorporates these considerations into research projects when selecting farmer priorities. This helps ensure appropriate beneficiaries, as women represent the majority of farmers in the world.

Virginia Tech is also the lead institution and manager in the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Collaborative Resource Management Collaborative Research Support Program (SANREM CRSP), which utilizes knowledge-based sustainable agriculture and natural resource management systems to help improve livelihood and opportunity for stakeholders.

"Virginia and the United States will benefit through domestic applications of research, reduced pesticide residues on imported fruits and vegetables, reduced threats from invasive species, and expanded demand for our export products as incomes grow in developing countries," De Datta said.

Pesticide education

    Students sitting around a table with plants on it while listening to a presentation

As part of a concerted pesticide education program in Mali, the IPM CRSP sponsored a first-of-its-kind professional development workshop in Bamako, Mali, for pesticide safety educators in West Africa.

“The workshop was a great chance to let others see what we have been doing and why,” explained Pat Hipkins, assistant coordinator of Virginia Tech Pesticide Programs.

Hipkins, along with Tech researchers Don Mullins and Jean Cobb, has been working in Mali for nine years developing pesticide safety programs.

“Farmers told us they didn’t realize that one pesticide is more toxic than another, or that some pesticides kill some insects and not others,” Hipkins said.

At the workshop, attended by more than 60 people representing 20 agencies from five West African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Senegal, and Mali), pesticide safety trainers met to exchange information, identify pesticide safety program needs, discuss collaborative efforts, and share techniques for measuring impacts.

The insidious olive fruit fly

    Olives (top) and an old olive tree (bottom)

On another continent, olive farmers in Albania are seeing increased returns on their olive crop, thanks to an IPM effort to thwart the olive fruit fly.

This tiny pest’s larvae were damaging olives grown for olive oil production. They also made the olives bitter, reducing farmers’ income.

The three major insect pests that attack the crop — the olive fruit fly, the olive moth, and black scale — needed to be treated with insecticides. But, the products were too expensive for the farmers to afford. Those who tried sprays were thwarted if the farmer owning the next block of trees in the orchard didn’t spray too. The quality of their olives — and their income — dropped.

The solution they discovered was simple — and free. Albanian researchers collaborating with Doug Pfeiffer, professor of entomology in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, discovered the most damage was done in the last couple of weeks before harvest.

During the same time period, oil content didn’t really increase very much. By the simple expedient of harvesting their crop two weeks earlier, farmers found that fruit fly damage decreased and their olives produced the higher priced extra virgin olive oil.

Read more about IPM’s Albanian research in the winter 2007 edition of Virginia Tech’s Research magazine.

  • For more information on this topic, contact Susan Felker at sfelker@vt.edu, or (540) 231-7188.

Array of results

    Partially planted field and trees

"The exciting thing about managing [IPM CRSP] is knowing that it is having a direct impact on the nutrition, health, and economic well-being of so many people around the world."

— Muni Muniappan, director of IPM CRSP

Achieving impact

    Women (top) and children (bottom) in planted fields

Thus far, Virginia Tech's program has increased farmers' profits from California to the Philippines, and assisted in reducing pollution.

At one site in the Philippines, benefits were estimated at $150,000 a year for 4,600 local residents of six villiages.

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