March 05, 2012

Massive cuts in pesticides without GMOs

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Genetic Engineering News List

NOTE: While GMOs have largely - and sometimes spectacularly - failed to cut
agrochemical use or improve yields, other approaches are showing that massive
pesticide reductions are possible while preserving or, in some cases, even
improving yields.

COMMENT from Kavitha Kuruganti: While this modeling [below] talks about 30%
pesticide reduction possibilities, on nearly 3.5 million acres, in what is
dubbed here in India as the world's largest state-supported ecological farming
project, NPM, an approach that eliminates the use of pesticides completely is
being used. And the local agriculture university did an evaluation that showed
that yields actually increased too, quite apart from net returns (that report is
too heavy to be shared)!

As one of the bureaucrats who pioneered this large scaling-up programme once
said, "Who wants to hear from experts and others on whether they think it is
possible or not, when one parameter for assessing such possibilities is simply
the smiles on the faces of the farmers who are taking part in the programme?"

I appreciate that the context for the study [below] in France was to allay
farmers' fears but also wanted to draw the attention of people to the fact  that
real changes, and on a large scale, are already underway.
French scientists: 30 per cent pesticide reduction possible without affecting
Farming Online, 2 March 2012

France is currently leading attempts in Europe to scale-back agricultural
chemical use, attempting to halve the amount of chemical inputs used in the
country by 2018. However, French farmers have reacted strongly to the targets,
which they claim will affect their production.
The government has recently reintroduced several forms of green manuring and
organic inputs for use on commercial operations in a bid to appease its farmers.
However, although returns for France's farmers have increased and the government
has received praise for showing commitment to the long-term viability of its
agriculture industry, many farmers have become jaded by new environmental
France is currently being taken to court by the European Commission over its
failure to designate adequate Nitrate Vulnerable Zones under a 1991 law. This
has resulted in documented examples of water pollution as a result of chemical
use, the Commission has claimed. France is currently Europe's largest consumer
of pesticides, and ranks third in the world.

Reduction in pesticides

France's agriculture department, INRA, last week stated, "The damage caused to
the environment and human health by pesticides is a subject of growing concern.
For this reason, during the Environment Round Table [Grenelle de
l'Environnement], France fixed an objective to significantly reduce the use of
these agents."
To support the targets, scientists at two of INRA's research units have
demonstrated, using modelling techniques, that the country can achieve a 30 per
cent reduction in pesticide use on arable crops without impacting on either
yields or farm income.
The scientists, who were looking at whether France's pledge to radically reduce
its pesticide use is economically and agronomically feasible, looked at expert
opinions and past experimental results to design a series of scenarios for
cultivation practices that would more or less reduce the quantity of pesticides
Their five-level classification examined a range of methods from intensive
agriculture (using the most pesticides) to organic farming which proscribes
their application.  Between these two extremes were three intermediate levels,
the researchers described as sustainable farming (which seeks to reduce input
use), low-pesticide farming (which combines chemical and non-chemical methods
for crop protection) and integrated farming, which notably implements crop
rotations that can reduce the risk of biological attack.

Based on their modelling, looking at the whole of the country, the researchers
were able to show that by developing low-input agriculture, a 30 per cent
reduction in pesticide use could be achieved without reducing productivity or
the margins received by farmers.  However, a 50 per cent reduction in pesticide
use, as demanded by the French government, caused only a 5 to 10 per cent
reduction in yield at a national level.
Although the drastic reduction in pesticide use was shown to affect yields, such
chemical inputs are amongst the most expensive raw materials, the rise of which
has sparked concern across the European Union, reducing their use may save
farmers money. The European Parliament recently commissioned a report into the
rise in prices of agricultural inputs after concerns over the effect on farmers'
margins. The INRA researchers concluded that, in order to attain France's goal
of reducing chemical application, whilst maintaining food production, "A
significant increase in the share of organic and integrated farming methods
would be necessary."

Looking forward
As a result of their study, the scientists suggested several measures for the
French government to ease the country's transition to lower input farming. They
suggested a system of grants and the taxation of pesticides which, if
implemented in association with better delivery of advice and training, could
convince farmers to reduce their use of these chemical inputs.  There have been
calls in Britain, since last year's National Ecosystem Assessment, for
environmental impacts to be factored into policy and costs across a broad range
of sectors.
In Europe, there have been increasing demands to increase research into more
sustainable methods of growing. New Economics Foundation policy director Andrew
Simms wrote this week of the pressures facing the world and the pressing need
for more research into agroecological measures. He stated, "The technologies you
choose matter, each carries with it a different DNA for the economy and society
that surrounds it. The ones you pick can lock in a way of being for decades. We
need to choose technologies for which low carbon and lots of jobs are part of
that DNA. Step forward both multiscale renewable energy technologies and
agro-ecological farming. As Jared Diamond put it in his book Collapse, societies
choose to fail or survive. We are more aware now of the likely consequences of
our choices than any society in history. Wouldn't it be embarrassing if we
continued to make the wrong ones?"
An INRA spokesperson elaborated on France's desire to move past pesticide use,
"Although their effects are diffuse and difficult to quantify, pesticides
contaminate water and air and can cause illness, particularly among the farmers
who apply them." The spokesperson said the study "Has shown that a major
reduction in the use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides is a wholly
realistic goal from an economic point of view."
Although reducing dependence on finite petrochemicals, which are having adverse
effects on the environments on which we all rely, is highly commendable, the
INRA researchers' findings demonstrate that there is a pressing need for more
research into truly agroecological production methods.  


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