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Farmers team with scientists to make the perfect rat trap

Rice farmers from two districts in Vietnam have successfully implemented a community action plan to thwart rodent damage to their crops thus reducing damage caused by the pests and giving them a 20% boost in income.

Every year, Vietnam loses 10% of its rice production to rats. In years of rat outbreaks, this rises to 20%.

"Farmers in many rice-growing countries see rats as one of their top three pests," says IRRI rodent expert Grant Singleton. "The situation is depressing especially for smallholder farmers in Asia who already depend on what limited harvest they can get from their land for their own food needs."

Rats cause hardship and food insecurity to farmers by eating grains or parts of the rice crop; spoiling grain through their droppings; bringing diseases to humans, poultry, or livestock; destroying personal possessions; or, sometimes in extreme cases, biting humans in their sleep.

"The key to outsmarting rodents is ecologically based rodent management, but, to be effective, it should be implemented strategically with community participation or collective action," says Singleton.

In a three-year project, Singleton and his team worked alongside village cooperatives and people's committees of two districts of Ha Nam Province in Vietnam, Binh Luc and Kim Bang, to implement ecologically based rodent management practices with the local community.

Ecologically based rodent management uses knowledge about when and where rats breed, and other ecological and biological information, to control rodents effectively without relying on rodenticides.

Practices adopted by the community included synchronized community planting (if crops are planted at different times, there is a continuous food source for rats that favors their breeding), timely community rat control campaigns, smart trapping systems, hunting female rats, and proper sanitation of fields. "These are all important steps a community must take if it is to successfully reduce rat populations in fields since rats don't recognize borders, and are apt to move from field to field," said Singleton.

"Just like rats, humans must adapt if they are to prevent rats from causing more poverty, hardship, or food insecurity, and working together as a community to control rats before they breed is an essential step," he added.

Farmer An Van Lai, who got involved in ecologically based rodent management, notes that, before the project, the farmers had no hope to control rats. Thus, even when they knew that rodenticide was not good, they didn't have much of a choice.

However, with community action at the early stage of the crop, they found themselves effectively managing rodent populations. When they studied dead pregnant rats in one community action activity, they saw many rat embryos. They also saw and caught many baby rats in the burrows at the side of the rice paddies. So, the fear that rats would return disappeared.

The rodent management community project resulted in 93% less rodent damage in rice areas, a 10% increase in rice yields, 20% higher economic returns, and 50% less rodenticide use.

"Using electrocution as a way to get rid of rats has also stopped," says Dr. Nguyen Huu Huan, deputy director general of Vietnam's Plant Protection Department. "Sometimes, farmers get accidentally killed when using this method, and this has been reported by the local press."

According to IRRI social science expert Florencia Palis, who is also involved in the project, it was easier for ecologically based rodent management to be adopted in northern Vietnam, where there is a history and culture of community cooperation.

"We are also doing work on ecologically based rodent management in other countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Laos, and the Philippines," she concludes. "But, sometimes, the hardest challenge is to try to break those cultural perceptions that rats are smarter than humans."

Contact: Bianca Ferrer
63-258-05600 x2587
International Rice Research Institute

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