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Integrated Pest Management

Definition explained                                                                                                       sd
Principles of IPM
Determining economic damage
Applicability of IPM
Research, extension and farmers
Support to IPM research
Support to IPM extension and farmer training                  
Farmer Field Schools
Farmer Participatory Training and Research

Definition explained

The World Bank uses the following definition: "IPM refers to a mix of farmer-driven, ecologically based pest control practices that seek to reduce reliance on synthetic chemical pesticides. It involves (a) managing pests (keeping them below economically damaging levels) rather than seeking to eradicate them; (b) relying, to the extent possible, on non-chemical measures to keep pest populations low; and (c) selecting and applying pesticides, when they have to be used, in a way that minimizes adverse effects on beneficial organisms, humans, and the environment".

Why not eradicate a pest?

Most attempts to eradicate pests have failed. Pest populations are parts of ecosystems. Attempting to eradicate pests with intensive pesticide use tends to destabilize these ecosystems and lead to more pest problems. Modern pest management analyses the life cycle and ecology of the pest and its interactions with the crop and then uses agro-ecosystem management to manipulate the pest's life-cycle in order to minimize impact on the crop. External pest control inputs are considered if agro-ecosystem management does not succeed in suppressing pest populations and pest damage threatens to exceed economic thresholds.

Why reduce reliance on synthetic pesticides ?

Besides killing a pest, most pesticides have a broader impact on the agro-ecosystem. Particularly their impact on beneficial insects and soil organisms may disrupt the functioning of agro-ecosystems, reduce their health, and increase the risk of further pest problems. In addition, use of pesticides may have negative health, environmental and economic implications. Viable non-chemical pest management approaches are often available, but tend to be overlooked when there still is a primary focus on pesticide use.

Why careful selection of pesticides and application techniques is important

If pesticides are to be used, careful selection of products and application techniques is important to minimize impact on beneficial organisms, humans and the environment. There is a broad range of pesticides with varying degree of impact on beneficial organisms, humans and the environment. When selecting pesticides one would search for a product that: (a) is effective in controlling the pest; (b) is highly specific to the pest and does not significantly affect beneficial organisms; (c) has a low human toxicity. In addition it is important to look at applications methods, as the amount of pesticides used may vary significantly. Use of insect traps (attractant combined with a pesticide) for instance requires far less pesticides than foliar application of pesticides onto crops.

Escalating pesticide use

Conventional chemical pest control has often led to undesirable escalation of pesticide use and crop protection costs. Well-documented examples include cotton, rice, vegetables, fruit and soybean. Mechanisms contributing to upward spiraling pesticide use have included:
  • Resurgence of primary pests (pesticide application against a pest is followed by a much bigger outbreak of the same pest because its natural enemy population was also destroyed and takes more time to recover than the pest population);
  • Induced outbreaks of secondary pest (spraying against one pest kills the natural enemies of another pest and triggers an outbreak of that pest);
  • Development of pesticide resistance as a result of unnecessarily intensive use.
Some examples of pesticide use that indicate a potential for pesticide reduction through IPM:
  • Calendar based preventative pesticide applications;
  • Use of insecticides, while insect damage is likely to remain within levels that can be compensated by the plant;
  • Use of herbicides, while weed problems can be economically managed through cultural practices;
  • Use of fungicides, while fungal diseases can be avoided by better selection of crop varieties and better fertilizer management.
A main reason for unnecessary pesticide use is lack of knowledge and information among farmers, extension staff, researchers and policy makers, about other crop protection approaches and the true costs and benefits of pesticide use.

Principles of IPM

  • Grow a healthy crop. The focus is on cultural practices aimed at keeping the crop healthy. Selection of varieties that are resistant or tolerant to pests is an important aspect. Attention to soil, nutrient and water management is part of growing a healthy crop. Many IPM programs therefore adopt a holistic approach and consider a wider range of agro-ecological parameters related to crop production.
  • Manage the agro-ecosystem in such a way that pests remain below economic damaging levels, rather than attempt to eradicate the pest. Prevention of pest build up and encouragement of natural mortality of the pest is the first line of defense to protect the crop. Non-chemical practices are used to make the field and the crop inhospitable to the insect pest species and hospitable to their natural enemies, and to prevent conditions favorable to the build up of weeds and diseases.
  • Decisions to apply external inputs as supplementary controls are made locally, are based on monitoring of pest incidence and are site-specific. External inputs may include predators or parasites (bio-control), labor to remove the pest manually, pest attracting lures, pest traps, or pesticides. The choice of external input varies for each situation. Pesticides are generally used if economically viable non-chemical pest control inputs are not available or failed to control the pest. They are applied only when field monitoring shows that a pest population has reached a level that is likely to cause significant economic damage and the use of pesticides is cost-effective in terms of having a positive effect on net farm profits. Selection of products and application techniques should aim to minimize adverse effects on non-target species, people and the environment.

    Note: Different groups use different interpretations of IPM. Claims of individual pesticide companies that products are "IPM-compatible" or "fit in IPM strategies" do not imply that an IPM strategy is actually pursued. IPM is explicitly broader than rationalization of pesticide use, such as: reducing dosages, stretching the intervals of calendar-based applications, or limiting the number of applications by observing economic threshold levels. IPM aims to address the root cause of the pest problem through agro-ecosystem management, where necessary combined with treatment of the pest itself, while threshold applications primarily focus on the pest. The occurrence of pests and diseases can often be regarded as symptoms of an unhealthy agro-ecosystem.

There is a wide variety of techniques that can be applied under IPM approaches. Applicability of individual techniques depends on various factors, including: the crop, the cropping system, the pest problems, the climate, the agro-ecological conditions, etc. Generally, IPM involves a combination of techniques. Some examples of such techniques:


Cultural practices that can help prevent build up of pests
  • Crop rotation
  • Inter-cropping,
  • Field sanitation and seed bed sanitation,
  • Use of pest-resistant crop varieties,
  • Managing sowing, planting or harvesting dates
  • Water/irrigation management,
  • Soil and nutrient management (including mulching, zero/low tillage, fertilizer management)
  • Practices to enhance the build up of naturally existing predator populations
  • Hand-picking of pests or hand-weeding
  • Use of traps or trap crops
  • Post harvest loss prevention
Biological inputs
  • Biological control through release of predators, parasites or pathogens
  • Biological control through fish, ducks, geese, goats, etc.
  • Release of sterile male insects
  • Bio-pesticides
  • Biological preparations (e.g. name extract)
Chemical inputs
  • Chemicals that disrupt insect behavior (e.g.: pheromones)
  • Growth-regulators
  • Conventional pesticides

Determining economic damage

Damage should be measured in terms of impact on farmer's net profits rather than impact on yield. The risks and cost of preventing yield losses should always be balanced against the value of crop to be saved. 

Decisions to apply pesticides are based on assessment of the expected economic damage and the cost and effectiveness of control. A commonly used instrument for such assessment is the Economic Threshold Level (ETL). ETLs vary for each situation and are determined through crop-loss assessment taking into account a variety of factors, including the value of the crop, the amount of damage it can tolerate at each growth stage without significant effect on yield (see Damage tolerance, below), and the cost of crop protection measures (e.g.: price of pesticides, application equipment and protective gear), and takes into consideration the risk that chemical control could induce further pest problems. 

ETLs are often established to move away from preventative calendar application. Much IPM research focused on establishing ETLs and many of the initiatives of the agro-chemical industry to rationalize pesticide use are based on the introduction of ETLs. Although ETLs have been an important element of IPM, it should be emphasized that their use alone does not convert conventional pest management into IPM. Essential to IPM is strategic agro-ecosystem management to prevent the build up of pest problems in the first place. A focus on ETL-based pesticide applications does not take into account the cause of the pest problem, which often lies in poor management of the cropping system. 


An important factor in determining economic damage is the ability of plants to tolerate damage and to recover from damage. A certain degree of damage can often be tolerated without loss in production. This is well illustrated by the example of rice in Asia. In research station trials, in farmers' fields, with local varieties, modern varieties, and hybrid rice exhibiting heterotic yield increase, for most of a rice crop's duration (e.g. through the vegetable period of rice crop development) up to 50% defoliation by insects or simulated insect damage or up to 25% destruction of the stems (called tillers) results in no statistically demonstrable yield loss compared with undamaged controls. Rice is considered to be physiologically limited in the rate of growth of new tissue per day ("sink-limited") so that extra photosynthetically produced sugars are stored as starch. This starch can be re-mobilized by the rice plant to compensate for tissue losses after insect feeding. Even after flowering, loss of a panicle (flower heads that bear the actual rice grains) can stimulate remobilization of starch to other panicles, which further boosts their yields, and offsets the loss of the original panicle.

Applicability of IPM

IPM is being practiced for a wide range of crops in all regions of the world. IPM is about an approach and not a set of techniques. The approach is universally applicable.

IPM does not necessarily involve sophisticated information gathering and decision making. The IPM approach can be introduced at any level of agricultural development. For example, improvement of basic crop management practices, such as planting time and crop spacing, can often be effective in reducing pest attack. IPM is a dynamic process. A useful beginning can be made with relatively limited specialized information or management input. Later, additional information, technologies, and mechanisms can be developed to enhance the effectiveness of the system. 

In addition to crop production, IPM also calls for non-chemical alternatives to post harvest loss prevention. This is particularly important as losses due to post harvest damage can be significant and use of chemicals on stored produce is a common cause of poisoning people. 

Research, extension and farmers

IPM is not an input or a technology per se; rather it is an approach that should be applied according to the local circumstances. IPM encourages farmers to find specific solutions to the pest problems they encounter in their fields based on understanding of agroecological principles, monitoring interactions among crops, pests and natural enemies of pests, and selecting and implementation of adequate control measures. 

There is no "blueprint" for planning interventions in support of IPM in a particular setting. Many countries have ongoing activities related to IPM in the fields of research, extension and farmer training, often supported by foreign donors. It is worthwhile to examine the capacity and experiences of national or subregional organizations when planning project interventions.

Support to IPM research

Providing support to research is an important element of an IPM intervention strategy because there is still a lack of locally adapted solutions to pest problems. Additionally, new pests constantly emerge with the change of farming systems. 

The integration of pest management technologies into a location-specific IPM approach is a classical example for a public good. Private companies invest in research and development (R&D) of technologies that might fit into an IPM approach, such as biological control, reduced-risk chemicals etc. However, there are little market incentives to invest in knowledge management of farm resources because benefits can not easily be captured to repay capital investment. This is especially true when it comes to using low-external input and long-term strategies such as crop rotation, cultural management techniques, use of compost and other organic matter.

Countries with a well-established national agricultural research system often have programs and associated staff with long-term experience and knowledge in biological control and other components of IPM. Many of those programs came from a technology-centered perspective and work on issues related to individual pests or crops. They have faced two major constraints which limit their outreach capacity and the actual adoption of suggested solutions to pest problems by the farming community. Firstly, many of those programs have difficulties to pass disciplinary barriers and adopt a holistic, problem-oriented perspective which would include an orientation towards the socioeconomic conditions of farmers. Secondly, because of weak research-extension linkages technologies developed in IPM research programs are often not sufficiently disseminated and do not reach a large number of farmers. National extension programs have been reluctant to take the IPM approach on board, because their modes of operation have been rarely conducive for a complex, situation-specific and knowledge-intensive approach like IPM.

Despite these constraints, continuous support to IPM research, especially for locally adapted pest management solutions is needed. Current research programs that are funded through public organizations focus specifically on:
  • emerging new pests, some of them of global importance (Example: The whitefly has emerged as a pest that threatens cropping systems all over the world.)
  • biological control and biopesticides (e.g. metarhizium for locust control)
  • host plant resistance, either through classical breeding methods or through techniques of genetic modification (e.g. Bt cotton, virus-resistant sweet potato)
  • use of IT in forecasting and scouting
  • integration of various control methods into locally adapted IPM approaches.

Examples of important ongoing international IPM research programs:

  • The System-Wide Program of the CGIAR (SP-IPM) bundles activities in international and national research centers according to the specific thematic focus (see  http://www.spipm.cgiar.org/).
  • The IPM Collaborative Research Support Program of US universities with counterpart researchers in a number of developing countries, supported by USAID, focuses on the pest management problems of horticultural export crops, peri-urban vegetables, olives, and some staple crops.
  • CABI has a long record for developing biocontrol techniques and IPM approaches for many location specific pest problems (see http://www.cabi.org/). 
  • International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology is a leading research center in insect ecology and runs field research programs which include many horticultural crops (see http://www.icipe.org/).

Support to IPM extension and farmer training

Over the past decade, a more participatory and farmer-based perspective on IPM has gained ground in a large number of countries. This perspective is being increasingly promoted by multi- and bilateral donor agencies as well as by NGOs. While in many countries there are pilot initiatives for farmer training which are scattered over many different regions and cropping systems, some countries have national IPM programs for farmer training in IPM. For example, in 1993 the Philippine government established the KASAKALIKASAN for provincial and municipal-based farmer training programs. Other countries in South East Asia, such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia have run similar programs for specific crops, e.g. rice.

There is unanimous support among all stakeholders that an IPM approach involves enhancement of the knowledge and skills of farmers. This can be done through a variety of measures, for example:

  • demonstration plots and trials as traditionally known in agricultural extension
  • distribution of information via television and radio broadcast, newsletter, and internet services
  • training of individual farmers or in groups.

The Farmer Field School (FFS) approach is increasingly considered and used in many countries (see below). A closely related concept is the Farmer Participatory Training and Research (FPTR) approach promoted by CABI and others. International and national agricultural research centers are using FPTR to bridge the gap between research and implementation by farmers.

Farmer Field Schools

The concept of FFS comprises usually a season-long group training exercise for a group of farmers in an on-site location. Emphasis is put on agroecosystem analysis as a way to acquire environmental management knowledge in learning by doing approach. FFS have been used in many Asian countries to address pest problems caused by injudicious and over use of insecticides, especially in irrigated rice.

The approach has been promoted by the Systemwide Programme on IPM (SP-IPM) which is based at FAO and supported by the Bank. The Facility supports FFS pilot schemes in over 20 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. A large-scale IPM training program that used the FFS concept was supported by the Bank in Indonesia from 1993-1999. While the capacity building effort in that project has reached over 600,000 farmers, there is still inconclusive evidence about the economic impact and the financial sustainability of the FFS concept as costs per trained farmer can be substantial.

Sources for detailed information on the Farmer Field School approach

FFS approach promoted by the Systemwide Programme on IPM (SP-IPM) and FAO:

About the issue of financial sustainability:

Other experiences with FFS:

Other approaches to agricultural extension:

Farmer Participatory Training and Research

The Farmer Participatory Training and Research approach promoted by CABI aims at empowering farmers through agroecological training. Farmers become attractive research partners in field-based research with research institutes and extension staff. Farmers are involved in all stages of the process from setting the research agenda and the experimental treatments, conducting observations, and discussing and interpreting results. As such, research becomes farmers' needs-driven, extension is exposed to technology development, and farmers improve their knowledge in ecology. Researchers receive farmer evaluations of ecological crop management methods, and this may lead to follow-up research for further alleviation of other farmers' problems. (See http://www.cabi.org/.)




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