In 1962 the environmentalist Rachel Carson published her seminal book Silent Spring that criticized the pesticide industry and the impact of its products on both nature and human health.
The book marked an important milestone in the development of the crop protection industry as it emphasized the need to improve and invest in the safety and environmental profiles of pesticide products.
The subsequent investment in innovation has made a difference. Today, the industry invests more than $3 billion annually into new technology. According to a new report, there has been a 95% reduction in the application rate of a pesticide per hectare since 1950, meaning farmers need to apply a lower dose of active ingredient to achieve the same efficacy.
At the same time, the product safety profile has improved. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies pesticides into four categories of descending toxicity from Class 1 to Class U (unlikely to be hazardous). The report states that an average 40% reduction in acute toxicity since the 1960s has meant half of all active ingredients introduced since 2000 are Class U, with no new active ingredients introduced into Class 1.
Innovation for Fall Armyworm
While crop protection innovation is high, access to these tools is not universal. The capacity of regulatory systems in many low-income countries to protect the investment into new innovations is often insufficient, sometimes leaving farmers without new tools. And when growers are without technology the consequences can be severe.
Take Fall Armyworm (FAW), a destructive pest first detected on the African continent in Nigeria in January 2016. FAW has since spread to 44 countries across sub-Saharan Africa and is estimated to reduce annual maize production by 21%-53% in the absence of pest management.
Insecticides are one of the few proven and effective tools for the management of FAW, but too often countries lack the regulatory capacity to approve the products, or farmers are pushed away from pesticides to alternative, sometimes unproven, substitutes.
Insect-resistant biotech crops, used successfully to combat FAW in Latin America, are another tool out of reach to most farmers in Africa because governments take political decisions not to use the technology.
Need for collaboration
Clearly, the crop protection industry does not have all the answers and pesticide use is not always appropriate. But the technology should be considered.
There needs to be effective coordination of all stakeholders involved in managing FAW with a focus on solution-oriented dialogues. FAW management should entail multi-stakeholder engagement with farmers, governments, service provides, NGOs and the private sector – this is truly the GFAR approach.
This story is part of our Partner Spotlight on CropLife International. CropLife is committed to bringing farmers the plant science they need to help them grow crops in sustainable ways. The innovations in plant protection shared through this Partner Spotlight are some of the many examples that are helping farmers cope with increasing threats worldwide. As a Partner in GFAR, CropLife’s researchers believe that the future of farming can only benefit from informed discussion and knowledge sharing, and that engagement and partnerships are key to improving agriculture. They know that to progress farmers and rural communities they must be empowered to take ownership of their own futures and become drivers of the innovations they wish to see.