This week, ASEAN FAW Action Project Advisor, Samoul Oeurn, interviews Mr Keo Sokheng who is an Assistant Scientist on Agricultural Research and Development at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
Mr Sokheng completed his Bachelor and Master’s degrees at Nong Lam University, Vietnam and has expertise in Agronomy and Plant Protection. Sokheng has coordinated various research projects covering areas on climate studies, plant breeding, seed production, private-public partnership, and plant protection. He has also been involved in international development work for many years prior to joining IRRI.
What are you working on?
I am currently working on testing the field release of a bio-control agent (laboratory-produced Telenomus remus) to manage fall armyworm (FAW) in Cambodia. We want to know whether it can be effective to reduce the FAW population and crop damage. This work falls under the Ecologically-based Participatory Rice IPM in Cambodia project, which is implemented in collaboration with the General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA), and the Cambodia Agricultural Research Development Institute (CARDI). Through this project, I am also involved in developing country-specific guidelines on fall armyworm management.
What is difficult about FAW control?
I've noticed a number of things that constrain effective management. One is the limited knowledge base and skills among farmers as well as extension workers in identifying and monitoring this new insect pest. Another is the limitations in information-sharing about the infestation, damage and serious impact of this pest. Moreover, not much is known about sustainable management practices. Farmer’s existing habits in using chemical insecticides with the expectation of rapid effectiveness is also a problem. This means we must take more time to work with them to reduce their reliance on insecticides and to enable environmentally-friendly management approaches like IPM-based biological control.
What do they think would help farmers more to control FAW? And other plant pests and diseases?
Farmers’ reliance on insecticides to control FAW is still the main barrier to boost other sustainable management practices and we must also address human health, environmental, and resistance problems related to the indiscriminate use of insecticides. Therefore, we need strategies and action plans in terms of implementing effective and sustainable alternative pest management. This must be researched and developed and then extended to the farmers through a multi-stakeholder approach.
What other plant pests and diseases research are you and your team working on?
Aside from fall armyworm, we are working on several pests and diseases in rice-based systems and on effective management options across the range of problems that Cambodian farmers encounter in their fields. This includes common weed species (e.g. Echinocloa crus-galli, Cyperus iria), insect pests (e.g. thrips, brown planthopper, stemborer), diseases (e,g blast), rodents, and snails.
Is COVID making it more difficult for implementing IPM?
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly created challenges. This pandemic has added more constraints to implementing my research activities. Travelling to do sample collections, site reconnaissance and meeting partners or farmers has been restricted. Aside from the travel restrictions, having teammates exposed to COVID also adds stress and difficulties to our work. In some cases, this has set us back and we have had to re-do some of the tasks that we could not complete on the first go. Lastly, closures of buildings or the laboratory resulted in losing the bio-agents that our partners had worked hard to collect and mass-produce. This triggered further delays in mass rearing activities and field release experiments.
Hanging the Telenomus cards in cornfield, Kandal Province. Pictured: Mr. Mang Socheat (Left), Mr. Keo Sokheng (Mid), Mr. Nit Ti (Right)
Photo: Oeurn Samoul
Field observation in Kandal Province, Field release by using Telenomus cards.
Cambodia. Photo: Keo Sokheng
Pictured: Miss. Hak Chhunneang (Left)
Mr. Oeurn Samoul (Mid)
Mr. Keo Sokheng (Right)
Photo: Keo Sokheng