Tue, 26 Sep 2000

Local farmers told to use natural pesticides

By Erry Prabandari

YOGYAKARTA (JP): The use of chemical pesticides in Indonesian agriculture seems unavoidable as farmers, particularly those living in remote areas, find them cheaper and easier to obtain.

But this environmentally unfriendly trend has taken a significant twist since the country was assailed by its multidimensional crisis, which has caused the rupiah to plunge in value against the U.S. dollar.

The crisis, which started in mid-1997, has resulted in escalating prices for various goods, including chemical pesticides. Farmers, who previously had never thought of making pesticides on their own, have now started to seriously consider this option as the prices of chemical pesticides are currently up to four times their original prices.

"Formerly, chemical pesticides were cheaper and easier to obtain and I liked to use them since I found them more practical," explained Ardani, a farmer in Logandeng, Gunungkidul.

Pesticide expert Edhi Martono of Yogyakarta's Gadjah Mada University has wasted no time in promoting biological pesticides, the result of a research project he conducted with some agricultural experts from the university.

Ironically, he discovered that the crisis has opened a window of opportunity for the development of sustainable agriculture and cultivation systems in the country as many confused farmers have tried to seek alternative pesticides to replace the now unaffordable chemical ones.

"When we offered them biological pesticide, they seem excited and were willing to give it a try," said Edhi.

"Then, I start campaigning for biological pesticide, which is an environmentally friendly product. The use of natural pesticide like this is less harmful than the use of chemical pesticides. Besides, farmers can easily produce it on their own and it's cheap."

In producing the biological pesticide, he uses various plants, such as papaya (Carica papaya), nimba (Azedarachta indica), mindi (Melia azedarach), the castor oil plant (Riccinus communis), tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), garlic (Allium sativum), chilli (Capsicum frutescens) and kecubung (Datura stramonium).

Mindi is a big tree with tiny leafs. In Japan, mindi wood is used to make boxes and high quality furniture, while the Javanese uses its leafs as a homeopathic method of curing diseases such as diabetes. Kecubung is a poisonous plant with large trumpet-shaped flowers.

A small amount of detergent and gasoline may be added to make the botanical pesticide more effective in killing insects and bugs, he said. A farmer can apply the biological pesticide just like chemical ones, using a sprayer.

"I used biological pesticide produced from nimba seeds to kill harmful insects, nematodes and fungi in my cabbage field," said Trimo, a farmer living in Klaten, Central Java.

In making pesticide from nimba seeds, he blends 500 grams of seeds in 400 liters of water. This pesticide is sufficient to spray up to 4,000 square meters of vegetable fields.

In order to get rid off grasshoppers, Trimo uses pesticides made from the mindi plant. To produce this pesticide, he mixes 0.25 kg of powdered mindi seed with five to seven liters of water and then adds two spoonfull's of detergent and a spoonful of gasoline.

Biological pesticide produced from the tobacco plant is extremely effective in killing bugs and harmful organisms in paddy fields. For this kind of pesticide, the farmer needs about 150 to 300 kg of tobacco stalks and then mixes them with limestone powder and water to spray one hectare of rice fields.

For Edhi, the crisis is a blessing in disguise allowing him to promote the use of biological pesticides. Two years after the crisis started, such pesticides have aroused great interest among farmers.

"I realize that not all Indonesian farmers are aware of the effectiveness of biological pesticides yet. But, it does not matter. We will need to undertake a long campaign to popularize it and we don't expect to get quick results in the short-term," Edhi said realistically

Based on his observations, he found that farmers had previously been spraying more chemical pesticides than they needed to.

"They usually raise the dosage of chemical pesticides in order to guarantee a good harvest. They never think of their side- effects and don't know how hazardous these products are," Edhi said.

The use of biological pesticide is safer and healthier. For instance, it is also effective in killing the bugs and insects that threaten watermelon crops. And the pesticide will make consumers happy as it leave no pesticide residue in the watermelons.