Pesticides can be good for the environment!

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May 2008

We are told constantly that pesticides harm humans and the environment - is this really true?

I believe that that human activity, especially extensive agriculture, harms the environment most (and of course we all want to go on eating). Many of the key issues in the debate can be summarised in an exchange between Prof A. Trewavas and Lord P. Melchett, and published by a major supermarket with a commercial interest in the issues. Amongst many others, Trewavas [(March 2001). "Urban myths of organic farming". Nature 410: 409-410.] contests the notion that organic agricultural systems are more friendly to the environment and more sustainable than high-yielding farming systems.

It seems to me that that pesticides have become a convenient "whipping boy" for the organic trade, other pressure groups (and some scientists!) so ...

  • In particular, are we asking the right questions about organic agriculture - which is so often presented as a viable alternative.
    Ask yourself:
  • Why is organic produce more expensive, if it requires fewer inputs?
  • How much land does it take up (compared with conventional growing)?
  • Does composting, manuring, etc. really provide a long-term solution to soil fertility - especially in tropical climates?
  • How much do you know about the 'natural solutions' (e.g. nicotine, copper) used to control plant pests and diseases?
  • Issues with pesticides used on cocoa

The DROPDATA pages describe our work on rational pesticide use, especially better application to minimise pesticide use by spraying more efficiently. Surely, by making agriculture more efficient, we can relieve pressure on the land and help provide more sustainable livelihoods for farmers and their families.


July 2008 onward

Pesticide regulations in the European Union continue to undergo amendment (e.g. the Annexes II, III and IV specified under Regulation 149/2008/EEC). The original 91/414/EEC regulation was seen by many as just the start of a review process and in July 2008 EU agriculture ministers approved even stricter controls, with a shift in emphasis from risk to hazard-based assessment - latest here.



January 2009

Read about how we are helping to conserve a tropical forest in Cat Tien National Park, Viet Nam. As part of our support to a Semi-commercial Integrated Rural Development Plan for the area, we will establish a research and development centre to accommodate project staff and visiting scientists, in order to evaluate of land use and developing skills in pest management. The latter will address urgent specific needs in the area, including sustainable control of:

  • wood and bamboo insects (e.g. termites and beetles)
  • mosquitoes (both nuisance and disease vectors)
  • cocoa pests (including Helopeltis bugs and black pod disease)
  • invasive alien weeds (e.g. Chromolaena odorata and Mimosa pigra).


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