Seated on her paddy’s dike, feet planted in mud, Chhoeng Sok waited for rain to wash away the insects that have devoured nearly half of her rice seedlings.
“This year’s weather is really bad, that’s why the [brown planthoppers] infested my field,” said Chhoeng Sok, who owns a hectare of land in Chambak commune in Takeo province’s Bati district. “For sure, I will not have enough rice for my family in the coming year.”
Chhoeng Sok is one of tens of thousands of farmers in 12 provinces who have watched the winged insect attack their rice paddies this month, officials said Monday.
As of August 23, planthoppers had been spotted in approximately 15,000 hectares of seedling and 73,000 hectares of transplanted rice across 28 districts, said Hean Vanhorn, deputy director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s agronomy and agricultural land improvement department.
A total of 1,089 hectares, mostly of transplanted rice, have already been destroyed, he said Monday.
Planthoppers, whose scientific name is Nilaparvata lugens, kill rice crops by sucking sap from the plants. The current infestation began last month, probably after the insects migrated from Vietnam, officials said Aug 5.
In an effort to control the rapid infestation, which officials think has been encouraged by an unusually dry monsoon season, the Ministry of Agriculture has encouraged farmers to catch the insects with mosquito nets. “Farmers have caught 15 tons of the insect in mosquito nets,” Hean Vanhorn said.
The ministry has also begun using the insect growth regulator Butyl and the insecticide Bassan to kill the pests, he added.
But Bassan will kill important planthopper predators, such as frogs and crabs, and the insecticide’s fumes are hazardous to humans, said Yang Saing Koma, executive director of the NGO Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture.
“It is not appropriate that the ministry has resorted to using an insecticide that is harmful to the environment,” he said.
Hean Vanhorn defended use of the chemical, saying it is the best method for controlling the pestilence.