Archive for the ‘Vertebrates’ Category

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The blue-tailed bee-eater nests in holes burrowed into tall sandbanks

Rice fields cover 160 million hectares around the world — an area more than six times the size of the United Kingdom. They are an important ecosystem for various animals, including a number of birds that can be seen at the experimental paddies run by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

The IRRI fields in the Philippines cover just 250 hectares, but can be considered a microcosm of millions of rice fields globally in which sustainable agricultural practices, such as non-lethal methods of controlling rice-eating birds, are used.

These images were part of photography exhibition, Feathers in the Fields: The Birds of IRRI. They show the abundance of birds within a rice field ecosystem. This emphasises the need to carefully manage rice fields and, ultimately, the wildlife that depends on them, as well as the need to prevent their conversion to urban uses. It also offers a way to correct the misconception among many farmers that birds are pests and raise awareness that 90 per cent feed on harmful insects. The birds reduce dependence to pesticides producing greener rice farming.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.

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James J. English/Armed Forces Pest Management Board


Speed read
– A €1 million project aims to control the spread of rodents in Africa

– It will harness sustainable tech and ecological ideas, demonstrating them locally

– It will also connect scientists across the continent to disseminate best practices


A project to control the spread of rats and mice in Africa has won a €1 million grant (nearly US$1.4 million) from the European Development Fund and, according to researchers, could transform food security on the continent.

The StopRats project, whose members met at the University of Greenwich, London, last month (20 January), has a threefold purpose. It will work with Africans to show them how simple, existing technologies can best be harnessed to reduce rodent numbers; explore ecological techniques, such as using predators to control pest numbers; and disseminate best practices by connecting scientists working on rodent control across the continent.

Rodents cause many problems in developing countries. As well as destroying food crops and household property and items, they are also vectors of deadly diseases.

“Here in Tanzania, investigators have recorded losses of up to 400,000 tonnes of maize due to rodents, which could feed around 2.5 million people per year and is valued at US$40 million,” says Apia Massawe, co-investigator on the StopRats project, and a professor at the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania. “Rats are also reservoirs of more than 64 diseases known to affect humans, among the most serious of which are bubonic plague and Lassa fever.”

Current rodent pest management in Africa depends largely on the use of rodenticide poisons. These work well in some cases, but their use is increasingly challenged because of the damage they cause to human health and the environment. Many smallholder farmers also often find such poisons to be ineffective, unaffordable or unavailable, according to Steve Belmain, coordinator of the StopRats project and an ecologist at the University of Greenwich’s National Resources Institute.

StopRats intends to educate African communities about the existing tools and technologies available to manage rodents cost-effectively. The project plans to deliver workshops, seminars and radio programs, and to identify stakeholders in need of the technologies, such as farmers and pest controllers.

It also plans to introduce novel strategies for ecologically-based rodent management. For example, encouraging predators such as owls and birds of prey to nest in fields increases the mortality pressure on rodent populations. Other strategies that will be explored include barrier systems that keep rats from crops, and more effective trapping systems that are also easier to set.

The team will be demonstrating the ideas at a local level, hoping that this will encourage uptake by local people.

“None of these technologies are particularly new,” says Belmain. “We’ve been trapping pests for millennia, but StopRats isn’t only about researching what works best where — it’s about capacity building and getting different stakeholders in a country working together, which can be very effective if people coordinate over a period of time.”

According to Massawe, African scientists researching rat control methods “seem to be working in isolation”.

“The StopRats project aims to break this barrier by bringing these scientists together and establishing mechanisms for information-sharing and exchange of knowledge,” she says.

StopRats is just one example of a project hoping to identify science, technology and innovation priorities for rodent-related research. Other recent examples include training rats to detect landmines in Mozambique and tuberculosis in Tanzania.



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Rice Pests of Bangladesh: Their Ecology and Management

by Zahirul Islam and David Catling

The University Press Limited, Dhaka, 2012; 422pages


This book takes a refreshing ecological approach to the management of rice pests in Bangladesh. Carefully laid out, easy to read and profusely illustrated, it is a single source for all rice pests, that is: insects, vertebrates, diseases, weeds, and draws on research efforts of the last 34 decades. It includes a new look at yield losses caused by insects and diseases, and analyzes ways and means of implementing IPM programmes.


The book is amustfor students, teachers, researchers, extension officers and agricultural development workers in Bangladesh and the eastern Indian states.


The book is available at:

The University Press Limited

Red Crescent House (5th Floor)

61Motijheel C/A, Dhaka1000, Bangladesh

Tel.: 9565441/9565444  Fax: 88029565543

E-mail: upl@bangla.net; upl@bttb.net.bd

Price: Tk. 1600.00



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Rats in Philippine Rice


Rats, rice and reform


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According to Leonardo Marquez of PhilRice’s Crop Protection Division, one of the biggest factors preventing the rice sector from reaching its full potential is rat infestation. Rice rats have been known to wipe out an entire crop, although the average crop damage attributed to rats is about 8 percent. Getting rid of the rat problem will thus immediately bring up rice output.

Marquez (0908-5316275) said that the only enemy in the rice fields that is intelligent is the rice rat.  Just when people thought they had devised strategies to kill rats, the rats would formulate counter-strategies. Take rat poison, for example. Rats that take the poison but somehow survive will never eat that poison again. Rats learn from experience, something other pests like the green leaf hopper cannot do.

Rats even practice birth control better than humans. When there is abundant food, they multiply rapidly. But when food is scarce, their birth rate goes down. This is why the rat population increases much more during the rainy season when there is much food, as compared to the dry season when there is less food. If only humans would do the same.

Rats also look for forest cover composed of grasses and weeds where they can hide. They can go far from their home base, and therefore cause more damage where grasses and weeds proliferate in low sanitation areas.

The 8 percent yield loss from rat infestation has been constant for decades. This is because traditional solutions have not changed. Reactive action is taken when rats are already causing severe damage. “Kill rat” campaigns are then launched to eliminate the rats. Some municipalities give rewards to the farmers who kill the most rats, while others give P1 for each rat tail submitted. Unless this reactive mode is changed and systematic preventive action taken, rats will continue to bedevil our rice fields. Four solutions are recommended.

The first is synchronous planting. If farmers in a given area plant and harvest at the same time, the rats have nothing to eat when the harvests are completed. Their numbers will decrease since food will be scarce. But when the harvests occur at different times, the rats will just go from one field to another because of the availability of food. The rats will then increase.

The second is sanitation. With the weeds and grasses minimized and overall sanitation improved, the rats will have fewer and less conducive hiding places.

The third solution is related to the second. Rats can still burrow into holes to hide. The traditional response is to cover these holes with dirt. However, the rats are smart enough to go around this dirt and create new entrances and exits. But if farmers mix water with mud and put this combination into the holes, this solidifies into hard mass, leaving no opportunity to carve new entrances and exits.

The fourth solution is the most important: farmers must organize into a united community to fight these rats. Without unity, the rats will merely go from one rice field to another. In places where there is no community action, the rats appear more intelligent than the people.

There is much effort to increase the yield of rice with measures such as irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides, and seeds. But when the rats come, 8 percent of the crop is lost.

The solution must be holistic. If we put effort into increasing palay yield, we must likewise put effort into preventing the rats from decreasing this yield. While the strategies to increase yield costs money, the strategies to fight rats cost practically nothing. Education and community mobilization are all that is needed. We recommend that training, tri-media campaigns, and community meetings and mobilization be harnessed before, not after, rat infestation.

Just as outstanding farmers are recognized for increasing yield, outstanding farmer communities that show significant decreases in palay losses due to rat infestation should also be rewarded. If contests and campaigns are publicized properly, Marquez believes the 8 percent loss can decrease to as low as 5 percent. Rats will then begin to perish and our rice flourish.

There is a paradigm shift in this kind of reform: proactive rather than reactive, preventive rather than curative, sustainable rather than short-lived, and community rather than individually propelled. It is this kind of reform that will also succeed in the fight against the “rats” in the government and the private sector. This way, these rats will similarly perish and our country’s inclusive growth will flourish.

(The author is Chair of Agriwatch, former Secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary for Agriculture, Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, email agriwatch_phil@yahoo.com or telefax (02) 8522112).

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