The power of policy

 Nelissa Jamora and Debbie Templeton   |  

In the late 1960s, newly developed, high-yielding rice varieties launched the Asian Green Revolution, which rapidly pushed up yields and allowed rice production to keep pace with population growth.

In the Philippines, as in many other countries, widespread use of pesticides expanded in step with the new varieties. This was largely due to concerns that crop losses from pest infestation would negate the benefits of planting modern rice varieties. Even the release of pest-resistant varieties did little to curb the growing use of pesticide during the 1970s and into the 1980s. Indeed, the Philippine government at the time promoted the wide and intensive use of agro-chemicals among small farmers from 1973 to 1986 under the Masagana 99 scheme.

By the 1980s, it was clear that indiscriminate use of pesticides could exacerbate, rather than alleviate, pest problems. In addition, there was growing evidence of the ill effects of the injudicious use of toxic pesticides on both the environment and human health. Moreover, research undertaken by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) showed that farmers’ private health costs were greater than any economic benefits gained from using pesticides without appropriate health, safety, and environmental knowledge and the attendant precautions.

In response, and in keeping with international protocols, the government under President Fidel Ramos (1992-98), through the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA), instigated a new suite of pesticide regulatory policies and implementing guidelines. These aimed to ban or restrict the use of commonly used but highly toxic pesticides in rice production, and encourage safer pesticide management practices (these initiatives are collectively referred to here as the 1992-96 pesticide policy package, or PPP).

However, even with the best political will, getting millions of farmers in a developing country to adopt new regulations is difficult. To determine whether or not the regulatory policy changes made a real difference on farms, IRRI conducted a survey of rice farmers in 2007 in Quezon, Nueva Ecija, and Laguna provinces. The survey results were compared with corresponding data collected in 1989-91 surveys undertaken before the policy changes as part of IRRI-led research on types and quantities of pesticide used, pesticide application and storage practices, incidence of farmer poisonings, and the overall effects of pesticide use on the health of Philippine rice farmers.

The primary policy advice arising from this research was to restrict the use of hazardous pesticides by imposing and implementing bans on those pesticides that pose acute or chronic health effects or adversely affect the environment—a recommendation that was reflected in the PPP.



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