Herbicide Use in Asian Rice Production

Economic growth and rising labour costs in many regions of Asia have led to the widespread adoption of herbicides in rice production. This trend has been reinforced by the spread of direct seeded rice technologies that require chemical weed control in the early stages of crop growth to prevent substantial yield losses. Herbicide use has been shown to be privately profitable for Asian rice farmers, but the question remains as to whether it is socially profitable when environmental costs, health costs, and the societal costs of labour displacement in some economically stagnant regions are accounted for. This paper analyses the causes and potential environmental, health, and equity consequences of extensive herbicide use in Asian rice systems, and discusses the importance of an integrated weed management strategy for future rice production. Case studies from the Philippines and Indonesia are outlined. The research estimates the extent to which the net benefits of pesticide use is reduced when health costs and the opportunity cost of farmers' time during illness are brought into the analysis. In many Asian countries, herbicides are not used safely and in combination with other weed control practices to minimize labour displacement and environmental and health-related risks. Herbicides are mainly marketed by private chemical companies in most rice-producing areas and are not incorporated consistently into extension recommendations. A successful strategy depends critically on the coordination between public and private sectors in the design of herbicide recommendations and ultimately on the appropriate use of herbicides.