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From Laboratory to Farmers' Fields: Brown Plant Hopper attacks in Indonesia

Last modified June 15, 2010 08:16

From an opening address to an Australia-Indonesia Agriculture and Food Security Workshop (8-9 June 2010, Canberra) by Prof. James J. Fox, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University, Canberra: “From Laboratory to Farmers’ Fields: Perspectives on Food Security”.

This year, for the first time in twenty-four years, there has been a much larger than usual infestation of brown plant hopper (Nilaparvata lugens Stal.). It is a fast-breeding invasive pest. It has a short generation time of three to four weeks, high fertility (females are able to lay between 100 and 300 eggs in a life-time of two weeks), enormous tolerance of crowing (1000 insects per rice clump) and tremendous mobility due to its complex development cycle that produces winged progeny every other generation. Lodged in the stalks of rice, the eggs of the brown plant hopper are sheltered from insecticide spraying and as larvae of these hoppers emerge, they suck the juices of the rice plant, and are thus capable of reducing a healthy green crop of rice to a withered burnt brown in the course of a day or two.

On the other hand, this formidable pest is also the most vulnerable of the pests of rice. In almost any rice field in Indonesia, there are 50 or more natural predators on the brown plant hopper and these predators, if they are not destroyed by pesticide spraying, are able to keep hopper numbers at a low level. The brown plant hopper is an ever present pest. But this year, beginning in January, infestations have affected a substantial area of Central Java. (……) Similar outbreaks have also been reported from Yogyakarta, from West Java as far as Banten and even from South Sulawesi.

The rice crops in Java, Bali and Sumatra have been several times devastated (notably in from mid-1970 through to mid-1980s) by wide-spread infestations. The last large outbreak began during the second rice growing season in Bantul in 1985 and continued to spread especially in Central and West Java during the 1986 planting seasons. At the time, pesticide use had reached staggering proportions, thus eliminating all the natural predators of the hopper and allowing it to multiply rapidly and spread precipitously. The infestation began on one of the new Indonesian rice varieties of that period, Sadang, but soon spread to all other related varieties, Krueng and Cisadane. (Interestingly IR 36 maintained resistance, though its sister variety, IR 42 succumbed.) In response, in November 1986, President Suharto issued a decree banning 57 varieties of pesticide – the entire spectrum of organophosphates – for rice and at the same time took steps to initiate a program of integrated pest management. In successive planting seasons, vulnerable rice varieties were systematically replaced virtually everywhere by a new resistant variety of rice from the International Rice Research Institute, IR 64. Over the past quarter century, this single rice variety has become the major variety planted throughout the country. Its enormous success and popularity with farmers has created a situation of extensive reliance on just this one variety.

Based on present reports from central Java (Boyolali), infestations of brown plant hopper have now, since January 2010, occurred on all varieties of rice including hybrid rice. They are most extensive on IR 64 and Membrano, the two most widely planted rice varieties. The present evidence thus indicates that IR 64’s resistance, which has held for more than two decades, no longer holds. Without this crucial resistance, far greater attention must now be paid to cropping patterns. As is occurring now, instead of another crop of rice, secondary crops are needed to replace rice in a cycle of planting. This comes at a cost and represents a loss – potentially a considerable loss – to targeted national rice production, especially in Java where the second rice crop provides a vital addition to overall production.


The present situation is a mixed one. In many areas, the lessons of Indonesia’s program of integrated pest management over the past decades are evident and the principal local efforts are aimed at breaking the planting cycle. In other areas, however, there has been heavy spraying with no success but with definite ‘hopper burn’. Yet this has not ended the calls for even an greater spraying intensity. From laboratory to farmers’ fields, the struggle for food security will continue. It is interesting to note that in the Farmer Field Schools associated with the Integrated Pest Management Program, farmers are taught to regard each of their fields as a kind of laboratory from which to learn lessons for the future.

Edited by Kees Stigter (14/6/’10)

I refer in the above context also to the contribution “On farm testing of designs of new cropping systems will serve Indonesian farmersunder our topic of “Needs for agrometeorological solutions to farming problems” of 16 January 2007. Prof. Fox also recommended

Winarto, Yunita T., 2004. Seeds of KFnowledge: The Beginnings of Integrated Pest Management in Java. New Haven: Yale University Southeast Asia Mongraph #53.

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