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Farmers wage a never-ending battle against insects

Insects are still the main reason why some farmers lose the money they have invested in their crops even though they work very hard and use a lot of insecticide in their attempts to banish pests.
But insecticide is not always effective because some pests are very resistant and somehow manage to survive. This means farmers use even harsher and stronger chemicals, which pose health risks for consumers.

Mr Bounthien and his produce.
Patithin Phetmeuangphuan

A Vientiane Times reporter recently discussed the issue with farmers in Nontae and Latkheuay villages in Xaythany district, Vientiane, who said they sprayed insecticide at least once a week but some of their crops continued to be ravaged by insects.
Normally they reckon to sell their vegetables one month after planting the seeds, but often they sell them sooner before the insects have done too much damage. But by selling them early, the plants are only half the weight they should be.
It’s a difficult choice because if they wait longer the leaves may turn pale and become full of holes after being attacked by insects.
Farmer Bounthien Keomongkhoun said he has been working on his farm since he was small by first helping his parents. In all that time he has never been able to find a way to defeat insects because they are so resilient and can survive even the most prolific use of insecticide.
On several occasions he was unable to sell his crop after too many insects nibbled away at the leaves.
Even though the weather is a lot cooler at present the days are still quite hot so it’s difficult to grow green leafy vegetables. The crops he favours, such as kale, Chinese cabbage, Chinese mustard and brassica, all do better in cold weather.
His farm is also the haunt of many small butterflies which means there are plenty of caterpillars. Although he has tried a great variety of chemicals to kill them off, the spray is only effective on some days.
“I spray the insecticide in the evening because it is more effective at night when the caterpillars come out to eat,” Mr Bounthien said.
“In the day time you might not see any caterpillars as they hide inside a protective cocoon. After we’ve sprayed, we don’t water the vegetables the next day so that the chemical residue remains the following night,” he explained.
And of course the heat is a problem for plants if they are not watered each day.
Farmers are frequently plagued by tiny beetle-like insects known as mat din which pose a danger to their crops. These too are liberally sprayed with insecticide.
“Another big problem we have is aphids. We don’t know what to do about it as they collect under the leaves and sometime attack young seedlings as well,” he added.
Mr Bounthien said it was easy to find insecticides in Laos and farmers weren’t concerned about using them.
Some farmers know how to protect themselves when they spray insecticide but some don’t.
But most farmers aren’t worried about insecticide and the use of chemicals in general and have no qualms about eating the vegetables they grow.
The general consensus is that vegetables can be eaten three days after they’ve been sprayed, but farming families soak them in salt water for several minutes before cooking them.
Many people think it’s healthier to eat more vegetables but this is debatable because Laos is unable to control the import of chemicals and farmers don’t pay much attention to the health risks to consumers.
Another problem is that vegetables on sale in markets are not often checked for the presence of chemicals.


By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update December 6, 2017)


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