Ahead of the International Conference on Chemichal Management we speak to two representatives of our members, Kim Schoppink from Rainforest Alliance and Maria Gernert from TP Organics, to understand what is the relationship between pesticides and agroecology.
Through the conversation, we are reminded of the long-term positive effects that agroecology has on soil and the environment, fostering a healthy ecosystem. On the other hand, interviewees remind us of the risks linked to over-reliance on pesticides and its connection to food insecurity.
Why is agroecology not compatible with the use of synthetic pesticides?
According to Kim Schoppink, agroecology fundamentally relies on a healthy ecosystem that can boost crop quality and productivity through synergising natural processes (according to the Agroecology Principle n.3) – such as, natural pest control, pollination, and improved soil fertility. The use of pesticides, on the other hand, disrupts these necessary systemic balances. “For example, the destruction of natural enemy populations can cause pest species to resurge, increasing the reliance on pesticides even further. Pesticide overuse is also incompatible with agroecology due to its link with declines in pollinator populations that negatively impact on yields.”
How does agroecology manage to produce food without using synthetic pesticides?
Kim Schoppink reminds us that approaches such as agroecology, integrated pest management (IPM), and agroforestry, which rely on practices that support ecological interactions between livestock, plants, soil, and microorganisms foster resilient ecosystems that can ensure food security. “The current system of overreliance on synthetic pesticides, has been contributing to climate change, spiralling biodiversity loss, and human rights abuses, all of which have been linked to food insecurity. Hence, by switching to agroecology and other holistic approaches that minimise synthetic pesticides helps to mitigate the climate crisis, increase farmers’ resilience to climate change, improve livelihoods, and enhance biodiversity.”
Maria Gernert points out that “Synthetic pesticides come with huge economic costs for society, lead to critical decline in biodiversity, including essential pollinators, and increasing resistance against pests and pesticides, and can even lower yields, whereas agroecology, including organic food and farming, follows a circular systems approach that aims at closing nutrient cycles and minimising the dependency on external inputs based on fossil fuels.”
What’s the evidence in favor of a system that doesn’t rely on synthetic inputs?
Maria reminds us that according to FAO, there is sufficient evidence that food security is enhanced by protecting the health of our soils, increasing biodiversity, and reducing the impact of our food system on the climate, as well as the dependency on external inputs. She also points out that a scientific study by GLOBAL 2000 for IFOAM Organics Europe showed that synthetic pesticides are significantly more dangerous than natural ones. In addition, another recent foresight study by INRAE clearly shows that agroecological practices such as the use of methods of soil and water conservation, intercropping, crop rotations, diversification etc. would enable Europe to reduce its dependency on pesticides to prevent pests and diseases and maintain crop yields, while preserving productivity and farm profitability. Further key evidence that Maria highlighted is the INRAE Ten Years for Agroecology modelling exercise, which provides evidence for the feasibility of adopting sustainable organic and agroecological farming practices. “Organic and agroecology are the best guarantee for long-term food security. As holistic approaches based on principles of ecology, circularity, diversity and fairness, they balance yields against the protection of our climate and biodiversity, making crops – and yields – more stable and resilient to pests, environmental variability, and climate change. In case of difficult weather conditions, organic and agroecology can even yield more than conventional methods, due to soil organic matter restoration and drought resilience”.
According to Kim, our agricultural systems need to fully transition to farming practices that strengthen the entire agroecosystem. “Several recent reports (IPCC, IPBES and HLPE) state that a transformation that reduces synthetic inputs is needed to address the climate, biodiversity, human health, and social crises we face today. The adoption of these methods is essential to deliver on the Paris Climate Agreement, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.”
What would be the benefits of phasing out synthetic pesticides (environment, economic, human health, animal health…)?
According to Maria, “The transition to agroecology would greatly reduce emissions and pollution, increase soil carbon sequestration, biodiversity and resilience/adaptation to climate change and improve soil health and water quality, whilst producing sufficient and nutritious food in the long term”.
Kim reminds us that synthetic pesticides pose various dangers that are social, environmental, and economic. From the social side it is estimated that 385 million unintentional acute pesticide poisonings occur each year, with the majority occurring in low and middle-income countries where health, safety and environmental regulations are weaker. In addition there is also environmental damage: “Pesticides routinely infiltrate soil and waterways, jeopardizing biodiversity, and the health of the communities who fish, grow food, and drink from these natural resources. In effect pesticides have a high economic cost for farmers, both socially and environmentally, through large scale soil degradation and biodiversity loss that are caused by the overuse of pesticides.”
What are your expectations for the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5)
Kim Schoppink expects that governments and other stakeholders participating in the conference will decide on a target to phase out Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHP) in agriculture globally by 2030. “In addition, I expect the proposal of the Africa group to be adopted. This group represents all governments of Africa. They recognize the dangers of HHPs on their continent and propose to set up a Global Alliance working together on the HHP phase-out.”
Maria Gernert expects ICCM5 to adopt a strong and urgent “beyond 2020” chemicals and waste global policy framework instrument. “This could be key to address our reliance on chemicals in every sector and area of life, protect our health and the environment, and reduce the pollution from chemicals. Likewise, concrete collaborative actions and commitments for the new instrument should be agreed.”
Additional resources and information:
The Rainforest Alliance approach to reduce synthetic inputs centers around the principles of Integrated Pest Management and is based on context-specific and farmer-driven interventions. It focuses on harnessing the inherent strengths within agroecosystems to bring pest populations down to acceptable levels, rather than trying to eradicate them. They choose control methods that bear in mind costs and benefits and drive social and ecological sustainability. All Rainforest Alliance initiatives, including their 2020 Certification Program and Thriving Landscapes programs aim to increase uptake of IPM and regenerative practices and reduce synthetic inputs.
The Rainforest Alliance also cooperates with companies in global agricultural supply chains on supporting the farmers in their supply chain to reduce synthetic inputs and implement agroecological practices. Together with Nespresso we developed the Coffee Score Card, It offers farmers and companies in agricultural supply chains a voluntary tool to guide their transition to regenerative farming, including reducing the use of synthetic inputs.
And lastly, they advocate on a global, regional, and national level for governmental policies that ban the use of hazardous pesticides and incentivize the uptake of agroecological practices.
Read also: The Prohibition of Paraquat: A Global Call to Action by the Rainforest Alliance
TP Organics, the European Technology Platform for Research & Innovation into Organics and Agroecology, brings together the whole value chain to advocate for more research funding benefiting organic and agroecological approaches that contribute to sustainable and resilient food and farming systems. Furthermore, TP Organics promotes research participation and knowledge exchange between the organic actors. According to its vision, R&I promotes sustainable and resilient food and farming systems in Europe, based on the Four Principles of Organic Agriculture, the FAO’s 10 Elements of Agroecology, and an inclusive concept of innovation.
Read also: Organic and agroecological farming: Safeguarding long-term food security by TP Organics