It takes a lot of “seeing to believe” in order to encourage change in agricultural practice.
In the Roshkala district of the Pamir Mountains, we held an orchard biodiversity seminar where we discussed the lifecycles of a variety of different insects living in their gardens. One participant, who seemed quite educated in biology, was very vocal and answered most all of the questions we presented to the group. It was a group of 10-15 participants, and this man was taking away opportunities for other’s to respond. It was becoming a challenge to share what we had planned. The man’s background in biology was impressive, but we want to hear from everyone, and we hope he is open to learn new things as well.
We soon broke out into an activity where we had 15 different pictures of insects present in most orchards of the Pamirs. Each laminated piece of paper had a high resolution photo of what the insect looks like in it’s different life stages. The participants had to then sort out the photos by separating the beneficial insects from the harmful insects. It didn’t take long for our vocal friend to take control. He seemed to have the last say in where each insect would end up. The result? All but one insect ended up in the harmful category. The only beneficial insect left was the honeybee. Everyone else appeared to be in agreement.
This was actually a great opportunity because there were actually 7 beneficial insects and 8 harmful insects. Regarding ladybeetles, for example, we asked, “so why are the ladybeetles harmful?” The answer was almost always, “they make the tree dry out” or “they eat the leaves.” We then had them look at the picture of the ladybeetle’s life stages and how the ladybeetle larvae actually feeds on aphids - an insect that actually causes significant damage to their trees and other plants. We had high resolution photos printed on order to show this.
Our friend couldn’t believe it. He got up from his seat and demanded to see each picture again. We then went back and explained the function of each insect, where they live, and how to identify them. He kept saying things like, “I thought these were all bad for my garden!” and “I had no idea!” As the seminar concluded, the agriculture director of the region shared how important it is that they continue attending these seminars and apply what they learned. Following his comment, our seminar concluded and half of the group stayed after to chat more about questions they had about insects in their gardens and how to practically control them. Of these seminars, three groups have developed who gather several times throughout the growing season in order to discuss new and beneficial practices that help control pests and produce higher quantity and quality of fruit.