Can farms maintain productivity while reducing pesticide use?

Farming tractor plowing and spraying on field vertical
How would reducing pesticides affect productivity? (Photo: iStock Images)

A new UN report states that it is dangerously misleading to suggest that pesticides are necessary to achieve food security. Instead, the report recommends that farms reduce pesticide use and adopt sustainable practices that protect crops from pests by enhancing biodiversity and natural enemies. This agroecological approach eliminates reliance on, and exposure to, expensive and toxic chemical inputs, but would it really allow farmers to be just as productive?

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Agroecology – benefiting farmers around the world

Farmers is Malawi are realising the benefits of acroecology © CIMMYT ( CC BY-NC-SA licence)
Farmers in Malawi are realising the benefits of acroecology © CIMMYT (CC BY-NC-SA licence)

This week, the UK Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, David Heath, has announced his support for the use of agroecological farming methods which are seen as the foundation of sustainable agriculture. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology (IAASTD) define agroecology as “the science and practice of applying ecological concepts and principles to the study, design and management of sustainable agroecosystems”. In practice, this means simulating natural ecosystems and using low inputs to increase productivity.

In 2011 the UN reported that by using agroecological methods, projects carried out in 20 different African countries were able to double crop yields in 3-10 years. The projects also recorded a reduction in the use of pesticides, leading to savings for the farmers. The agroecological approach has multiple benefits, beyond these economic gains. It also takes into account social and environmental issues, including soil fertility, water availability and climate change.  Continue reading