, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 2-9

Traditional knowledge and rationale for weaver ant husbandry in the Mekong delta of Vietnam

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The weaver ant, Oecophylla smaragdina Fabricius (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), has long been known as perhaps the first example of human manipulation of a natural predator population to enhance the natural biological control of insect pests. The practice of ant husbandry in Vietnamese citrus orchards and the knowledge associated with the use of weaver ants in the Mekong delta are described. In contrast to other regions of Asia, where weaver ants are noted for their role in the protection of citrus from insect damage, citrus farmers in the Mekong delta explain the benefits of ant husbandry in terms of an improvement in fruit quality, likened to the influence of fertilizers, that occurs in direct response to excretory products deposited by the weaver ants as they patrol the fruit. A series of tests, carried out in 1993–94, rated the external shine, sweetness, juiciness, and overall appeal, as characteristics of fruit quality, for paired comparisons of sweet orange, mandarin, and pummelo fruit that had been grown in the presence of weaver ants or from which ants had been excluded. The tests indicate a strong influence of the presence of the weaver ant on external shine, juiciness, and overall appeal for each of the citrus fruits, but particularly for mandarin. The significance of these results and ant husbandry practices in the Mekong delta are discussed in relation to the development of citrus production in Vietnam.

Marco Barzman is Assistant Coordinator in the Latin America and Caribbean Program at the American Friends Service Committee. His interests are in the development of sustainable agriculture in developing countries through farmer participatory research, the use of traditional knowledge, and appropriate technology.
Nick Mills is Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management at the University of California at Berkeley. His interests are in the study and use of natural enemies for the control of crop pests.
Nguyen Thi Thu Cuc is an Associate Professor in the Plant Protection Department at the University of Can Tho, Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Her research interests are in the development of environmentally benign pest control methods for crops in the Mekong delta. She is currently participating in the implementation of an IPM program for rice.