TED Case Studies

Vietnam Pesticides

I. Identification

1. The Issue

The improper use and handling of agrochemicals has had an adverse impact on Vietnam's ecosystem as well as field laborers. Farmers who use pesticides and herbicides have higher reported incidences of rashes, eye irritation, gastrointestinal disorders and headaches. In an attempt to reduce herbicide and pesticide use, large-scale re-education programs integrating natural pest management are being promoted, but obstacles obstruct full implementation of natural weed and pest programs. Increased pressures to produce surplus rice for export has led to greater reliance on agrochemicals that maximize yield. The long-term effect of the pesticides and herbicides has far reaching consequences for the environment, the people and trade/P>

2. Description

After the war, the Vietnamese government moved towards instituting reforms to help its ailing economy. In a series of reform measures in 1981, Vietnam turned away from the collective farming system to a group-oriented system. In 1986, the production system was altered again, but this time the change was towards individual contracts. For the average small farmer, the reforms resulted in a 40 per cent increase in individual income from harvested crops. For the first time, small farmers in Vietnam had a vested interest to increase crop production not only for consumption, but for export as well (Naylor 1994). "Ironically, the war may not have been as big a threat to biodiversity as friendly relations with the outside world are...now that Vietnam is open to international markets, we are seeing changes in agricultural methods that are threatening much of the natural environment" (www.macfdn.org).

As Vietnam increases its participation in the global market, growing urban centers have spurred a labor migration into non-agricultural sectors. As the labor market shifts into the cities and industrial fields, the once cheap cost of hiring a agricultural worker inevitably rises. In order to minimize costs associated with production while producing surplus amounts of rice for export, farmers indiscriminately turn to agrochemicals.

Role of Rice in Vietnam

In many provinces of Vietnam, a variety of rice paddies speckle the landscape. Terraced paddies in the mountainous areas and flat paddies in the flood plains, the history of rice in Asia extends more than 7000 years and is reflected in lifestyle and culture. An integral part of life in Vietnam, rice is the staple food as well as an economic activity. The "average Vietnamese eats three quarters of a pound of rice a day...[and] rice covers 75 percent of the country's cultivated land" (www.destinationvietnam.com). Rice is the main crop for many Vietnamese and the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture (MAFI)is planning a multi-million dollar farm diversification program designed to protect the country from possible domestic food shortages. Encouraging farmers to be less reliant on rice, crops such as fruit trees and coffee are being encouraged. But the task is a difficult one considering that to many Vietnamese, Vietnam is described as "two rice baskets on a carrying pole"(Ibid). With rice playing such a central role in Vietnam, it is no wonder that infestations of weeds or pests are immediately treated with agrochemicals.

As a labor-intensive activity, weed control is one of the most important facets of rice production and in Vietnam, cheap and abundant labor made manual weeding possible. Weed infestation is one of the greatest challenges to rice production and can affect crop output on average 10-15 per cent without regards to weeding efforts. If left unmonitored, weeds can eliminate close to 95 per cent of the yield. The solution for many farmers, unfortunately, were increased use of agrochemicals such as chlorophenoxy herbicides and acetamide compounds as a replacement for manual weeding (Naylor, 1994).

Although not as toxic as pesticides, Paul Ehrlich noted that unless there is a careful application of herbicides, the herbicide rise will reflect the insecticide boom of the 1960's and 1970's. If the herbicide trend continues, "there's a disaster 20 or 30 years down the road, and probably a lot less rice." (Holmes, 22).

In pursuit of a preventative program, a foundation for an integrated weed management program has been established. Focused on reducing levels of herbicides and introducing more weed resistant strains of rice, the Integrated Weed Management (IWM) program focuses on limiting dependency on agrochemicals. In Vietnam, the IWM program was not as fully embraced as its pest management counterpart (because the benefits are more difficult to quantify), however, it is an alternative to herbicides as a farming tool. As IWM continues to grow and develop from infancy, other quantifiable methods of weed control will continue to be used (New Scientist, 1994) Herbicides are not the only chemicals plaguing Vietnam's rice paddies. In addition to weeds, insects have played an integral role in the adoption of rice farming techniques.

The introduction of hearty rice varieties in the late 1960's marked an emerging trend in rice production as short-duration, high yield crops were incorporated into Vietnam's rice fields. With the short duration rice varieties, farmers could now plant and harvest rice 2 or 3 times a year, thus increasing total annual rice output. After the new varieties were introduced, however, the dominant pest control strategy towards insect infestation continued to favor chemical insecticides (Settle, et al. 1996). The combination of high yielding varieties of rice, in addition to pesticide use, has transformed Vietnam from an importer of rice in 1989 to one of the top three exporters of rice in 1995 (Schwartz, 1995).

According to official estimates, in 1995, Vietnam food grain production was close to 26.1 million tons, of which 24.7 million tons were rice (Riceweb.com). With such a large percentage of Vietnam's production being rice, rice insects and pests are a considerable concern to Vietnam's farmers (Riceweb.com)

To combat pests, farmers worldwide annually spend close to $2.4 billion in pesticides for rice fields, of which approximately 80 per cent is used in Asia (Science News, 1994). The annual amount spent on pesticides for rice surpasses pesticide purchases for any other crop (IRRI). Unlike the less toxic herbicide, pesticides are the most toxic pest-control method (IRRI).

The unavoidable problem regarding pesticide use is the development of pesticide resistant insects. "More than 900 species of insects, weed and plant pathogens, for example, are now resistant to at least one pesticide-up from 182 in 1965. At least 17 insect species have shown some resistance to all major insecticide classes. A decade ago, there were only a dozen herbicide resistant weeds; today there are 84" (Gardner 1996). Continued use of pesticides will result in the development of stronger and more harmful agrochemicals.

Millions of farmers in Asia view pesticides as a product with medicinal qualities that cure the ailments of their crops, and because of the misconception farmers have been applying pesticides indiscriminately (Ecology 1996). In a survey of rice farmers in Southeast Asia, 31 per cent viewed all insects as pests, and 80 per cent apply pesticides when they saw any type of pests. Additionally, although many of the farmers introduced pest resistant rice strains into their fields, their spraying levels continued to remain constant (Science News, 1994).

Insecticide Use in Vietnam

A study of insecticide use in Vietnam showed that a significant amount of pesticides applied on rice fields are unnecessary. Vietnam's researchers at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in conjunction with Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture monitored insecticide use patterns of 950 farmers. Their findings indicate that 42 percent of insecticide used was focused on leaf-feeding insects such as the green leaf hopper (nephotettix virescens) but spraying patterns did not correlate with current pest situations (PANUPS, 1995).

In Vietnam, farmers perceive leaf damage as threatening to their crop yields and viewed leaf feeders as the main culprit. Upon identification of significant amounts of leaf damage, farmers usually apply the largest proportions of pesticides. However, studies show that there is no correlation between leaf damage and crop yields (PANUPS, 1995).

Over 95 per cent of the farmers interviewed applied at least one type of pesticide during the growing season and the mean number of sprays in Vietnam is seven (PANUPS, 1995). "Over 90 per cent of pesticides sprayed were insecticides, approximately half were organophosphates, including methyl parathion, monocrotophos, and methamidophos" (Ibid). Of the pesticides used, nearly 20 percent are classified by the World Health Organization as extremely hazardous, especially methyl parathion (Ibid). Although the use of chemicals does not affect the exportability of rice, the contaminants remain in the soil, affecting future rice crop yields.

Recent studies have shown unsafe storage, handling, application and disposal of pesticides increases the risk of incidental exposure and contamination of water canals and ducts. The side effects of pesticides on humans are also linked to bronchial asthma, eye irritation, and pulmonary disorders (Naylor, 1994). Furthermore, toxic chemicals used in rice paddies are often not confined to them. During heavy rains, rice fields often overflow paddy boundaries contaminating surrounding soil and water. In pesticide-free rice fields, certain types of fish and shrimp can usually be farmed with rice. However, because of the high level of toxicity of the pesticides, farmers are limited solely to rice and lose the capability to produce additional food for consumption or sale. Prolonged misuse of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers over the years has affected the development of inland fisheries including pond culture, "cage and pen rearing and brackish water culture" (www.servenet/agriculture/fish/forestry).

With a growing population, Vietnam's ability to feed its people along with production for export is a growing concern for the future sustainability of the country. The pressures to explore alternate methods of pest control while continuing to increase crop yield will come to the forefront of agricultural discourse as the axis of population and food output intersect at maximum levels.

Indonesian Experience

In Indonesia in 1986, an outbreak of the brown plant hopper devastated rice output, consuming enough rice to feed 3 million people (Science News, 1992). At the time, neither pesticides nor hearty strains of rice could stop the infestation of the plant hopper and the plant virus that it carried. The Indonesian government feared that rice production would not be able to recover from such devastation and sent researchers to uncover the root of the problem.

Researchers discovered that pesticides actually exasperated the problem by encouraging the development of resistant plant hopper strains and by killing off the natural predators of the insect (Science News, 1992). Researchers at IRRI discovered that "7 times as many eggs survived on experimental fields treated with insecticide" and a researcher commented, "trying to control population outbreaks with insecticides is like pouring kerosene on a house fire." (Ibid).

Armed with the findings, Indonesian President Suharto received enough backing to ban 57 of the 63 pesticides used on rice fields and transferred rice subsidies to support an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program (New Science, 1992). The IPM program re-educates farmers regarding proper pesticide use and implements more environment friendly methods to increase crop yield while reducing pests (Ecology, 1996). In conjunction with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) farmers were taught how to identify insects that are harmful to yield output and how to eliminate them using limited amounts of pesticides. IPM does not advocate eliminating pesticides, but rather limiting their use and educating the farmer on natural techniques to pest elimination.

Integrated Pest Management

In more specific terms, IPM is a "systems approach to pest management based on an understanding of pest ecology. It begins with diagnosis of pest problems, then relies on preventative tactics and biological controls to keep pest populations within acceptable limits. Reduced risk pesticides are used if other tactics are [not] effective, as a last resort and with care to minimize risk"(Richardson, 1996)

In a study compiled by the FAO, farmers with IPM training reduced their application of pesticides 57 per cent compared to non-IPM trained farmers. Additionally, the IPM trained farmer had an 8 per cent increase in crop yield. (Gardner 1996).

Over the past two years, pesticide use in Indonesia was reduced by 75 per cent and rice yields have significantly increased, as Indonesian farmers become more adept at rice cultivation and pest elimination. The IPM program was a tremendous success in Indonesia and has been proof that the combination of yield increases and reduced pesticide use are profitable to both the farmer and the environment. However, adoption of IPM has many obstacles to overcome before spreading to the rest of Asia.

Problems With IPM

The first obstacle is cost. The main cost regarding IPM implementation is proving its efficacy over pesticide use. Proving the effectiveness of IPM techniques requires individual teams of specialists working within a community of farmers overseeing, advising and re-educating them along every step of the rice growing process. One of the largest difficulties in implementing IPM is the skepticism of many farmers. Most farmers rely on pesticides and will continue using chemicals until demonstrative evidence is provided to do otherwise.

Relative to the potential crop losses due to insect infestations, IPM training is not expensive. The Indonesian IPM program is subsided through the Indonesian government at an annual cost of 6 million-dollars. Although portions of Indonesia's IPM funding comes from the US Agency for International Development and the World Bank, it is evident that IPM as a program needs to be embraced by the local and federal governments to be fully implemented. According to agricultural analysts, it may take an insect catastrophe similar to Indonesia's to persuade other Asian governments to steer farmers away from pesticides.

Secondly, Asia accounts for "90 per cent of the world's rice production, and three-fourths of its harvests come from paddy fields." (New Scientist, 1994). Asia is a very large market for chemical producers such as Ciba-Geigy and Hoechst, who want to maintain current levels of pesticide sales in the region. To maintain market share, the chemical companies have launched large marketing campaigns targeting farmer's fears and worked to overturn and block legislation banning pesticide use. The chemical companies often more resources and are better organized than local governments or some non-profit organizations, which means that their message is more likely to reach and influence paddy rice farmers (New Scientist, 1994).

In conclusion, increased pressures to maintain high levels of rice output for consumption and export has resulted in increased use of pesticides on rice fields. One of Vietnam's greatest problems is pollution of the environment as a result of pesticide and herbicide use. In order to minimize further damage, alternative or redesigned methods to pest control must be implemented. The IPM program is an alternative pest and weed control mechanism that is eco-friendly and facilitates natural production yields. The obstacles that prevent the program from being implemented will be overcome as increasing population growth and possible insect infestation place pressures on current rice yields. Until then, continued misuse and unnecessary application of pesticides in Vietnam's rice paddies can only lead to further environmental damage.

3. Related Cases






Key words




4. Draft Author: Hang A. Pham

II. Legal Clusters

5. Discourse and Status: DISAGREE and INPROGRESS

6. Forum and Scope:UNILATERAL

7. Decision Breadth:(1)VIETNAM

Chemical manufacturers would be affected by a ban on sale of pesticides as would consumers. The price of rice may increase due to the costs in implementing IPM or an alternative method.

8. Legal Standing: SUBLAW

III. Geographic Clusters


9. Geographic Locations

Vietnam is characterized by a diverse climate ranging from a subtropical climate along with temperate conditions in the mountainous areas. Over 30 per cent of Vietnam is forested and about 20 percent is cultivated. (Riceweb.com) With 75 million people, Vietnam is one of the most populous countries in the world and the majority of the population is rural. Of the 35 million people in the workforce, 20 million Vietnamese are in the agricultural sector. Agriculture in Vietnam accounts for approximately half of the country's employment and GDP (Ibid). Vietnam's role in rice farming is significant. With 6.3 million hectares devoted to rice, rice is the most important crop accounting for more than two thirds of Vietnam's food grain output. (Ibid).

a. Geographic Domain: ASIA

b. Geographic Site: SOUTHEAST ASIA

c. Geographic Impact: VIETNAM

10. Sub-National Factors: NO

11. Type of Habitat: TROPICAL

IV. Trade Clusters

12. Type of Measure:SUBSIDY

13. Direct v. Indirect Impacts:INDIRECT

14. Relation of Trade Measure to Environmental Impact

a. Directly Related to Product:NO

b. Indirectly Related to Product:YES

c. Not Related to Product: NO

d. Related to Process:YES; POLLUTION LAND

15. Trade Product Identification: RICE

16. Economic Data

17. Impact of Trade Restriction:HIGH

Rice cultivation is a significant subsistence activity for a large number of Vietnamese. Because most of the population is rural and in agricultural sectors, restrictions on rice would be devastating.

18. Industry Sector: FOOD

19. Exporters and Importers:VIETNAM and MANY

V. Environment Clusters

20. Environmental Problem Type: POLL

21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species:

22. Resource Impact and Effect: MEDIUM and STRUCTURAL[STRCT]

23. Urgency of Problem: MEDIUM and 100s of Years

24. Substitutes: BIODEGRADABLE

VI. Other Factors

25. Culture: YES

The role of rice in the history of the Vietnamese people extends hundreds of years and continued production to feed the growing population as well as for export is a part of rural subsistence.

26. Trans-Boundary Issues: NO

27. Rights: NO

28. Relevant Literature

Barker, Randolph. "Impact of Agriculture Policies: Experiences from Asian Countries and Implications for Vietnam." Southbound, 1995.

Gardner, Gary. "War on Pests." The San Diego Earth Times. www.sdearthtimes.com. 1996

Gaud, Victor. "Asia Region Annual Report" Conference and working papers at Pennsylvania State University.

Journal of Asian Studies. "Asia General." Vol. 53, No. 3, 08/94.

Naylor, Rosamond. "Herbicide Use in Asian Rice Production." World Development, Vol. 22, No.1, pp.55-70. 1994

New Scientist "Beyond the Pestkillers." May 7, 1994.

Pesticide Action Network North America Updates Service (PANUPS). "Evidence Mounts Questioning Insecticide use in Tropical Rice." March 7, 1995. Infopubs.

Riceweb.com. "Vietnam Rice Facts from IRRI" . www.riceweb.org/countries/vietnam.htm

Richardson, Len. "Mother Nature's Managers." California Farmer, November 1996.

Science. "Researchers Score Victory Over Pesticides and Pests in Asia." Vol. 256, No. 29, May 29, 1992

Science News. "Reassessing Pesticides' Value" Vol. 145, Issue 5, 1/29/94.

Schwarz, Adam. "Problems in the Paddy." Far Eastern Economic Review. Sept 21, 1995.

Settle, Richard. "Managing Tropical Rice Pests Through Conservation of Generalist Natural Enemies and Alternative Prey." Ecology. Vol. 77, No. 7, 10/01/96

Serve.net/agriculture/fisheries/forestry. "Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry of Vietnam." US Army.

Tilton, Sarah. "Vietnam" www.destinationvietnam.com

Uniyal, Mahesh. "Good Times, Bad Times for Asia." Rome, IPS. 1996

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