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Daily News Blog

15
Oct

IPM (Integrated Pest Management) Fails to Stop Toxic Pesticide Use

(Beyond Pesticides, October 15, 2021) Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a 60-year-old approach to agricultural practice that, when first conceived and implemented, had among its goals a significant reduction of synthetic pesticide use, and the health, environmental, and ecosystemic benefits that would flow from that. However, as a study published earlier in 2021 concluded, IPM has overall been unsuccessful in achieving those goals. The researchers propose to replace IPM with “Agroecological Crop Protection [ACP],” the application of agroecology to protecting crops from damage (usually by insects or weeds). Beyond Pesticides has long embraced the foundations of ACP, which focus on cooperation with natural systems that keep all organisms in healthy, dynamic balance (and avoid overpopulation and trophic cascades).

The research was conducted by scientists from France, Cambodia, and Vietnam; the research paper was published in Agronomy for Sustainable Development. The authors offer myriad reasons for their conclusion that, “More than half a century after its conception, IPM has not been adopted to a satisfactory extent and has largely failed to deliver on its promise. . . . Despite six decades of good intentions, harsh realities need to be faced for the future. . . . IPM has arguably reached its limits.”

The research team, all of whom have worked as IPM scientists and proponents, seems to mourn that IPM has “lost its way” over the decades — moving from ecological and health concerns as primary to its current state, in which (usually chemical) control methods are central. They note, “In cases where the concept of ecology is used in IPM, environmentalism is referenced more often than ecology, i.e., the aim to reduce negative environmental impacts, rather than using ecological processes to replace chemical pesticides.” 

The explanations for IPM’s failure to be adopted effectively and to achieve its goals, as yielded by their research, include: (1) the plethora of definitions of IPM has meant confusion and varying interpretations of the concept by practitioners; (2) there have been inconsistencies between IPM concepts and practices, and public policies; (3) commonly, there is a lack of basic understanding by farmers of the ecological concepts behind IPM; (4) in many IPM programs, chemical controls remain a cornerstone, and that use as a “last resort” is rarely adopted by farmers; (5) IPM research has been paltry, both in scientific and programmatic realms; and (6) “ecology” has been inadequately prioritized in IPM.

Other factors contributing to IPM’s poor record include termination of programs that trained, supported, and guided practitioners; industry meddling; farmer perception of IPM as risky (and therefore not adopting it and/or returning to intensive chemical inputs); lack of effective decision thresholds established for specific crops in specific geographic and pest contexts; and shifting political realities. Overall, once supportive training and funding disappears, the authors assert, pesticide use again surges. The researchers also write, “In settings with resource-poor smallholders, subsistence farming systems, no organic certification schemes, or lagging demand for high-value commodities, the availability of cheap pesticides hinders adoption of IPM.”

There have been some successes with IPM, such as Southeast Asian farmer training programs yielding a 92% pesticide reduction in rice production in Bangladesh, and a 50–70% reduction in tea and cabbage in Vietnam (in the early 2000s). In 2014, research showed that in 500+ IPM programs across the globe, 13% increases in crop yields and 19% increases in farm profits were realized.

Although many years ago, Beyond Pesticides was prepared to consider IPM a tool in the kit bag of reducing pesticide use, even then it recognized the problem of “varied [IPM] definitions and policies . . . numerous perspectives, and critical disagreements among public health and environmental advocates, regulators, and the pesticide and pest management industry.” But currently, given what the study authors call “a quasi-infinite number of definitions and interpretations” of IPM (see more, below), this absence of any standardized definition for IPM means that in the U.S., any registered pesticide can be used and the management system still be considered “IPM.”

Organic agriculture, on the other hand, operates within the codified organic regulations of the National Organic Program (NOP), is bound by the very restrictive National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, and is subject to inspection to ensure compliance with NOP standards. Beyond Pesticides understood years ago, and continues to maintain, that organic land management and agriculture are the solution to our agrochemically induced crises — in health, in ecosystem degradation, in biodiversity loss and potential pollinator collapse, in depleted soils, and in water, air, and soil pollution, among others.

Indeed, the landscape is such that, depending on what IPM definition a farmer adopts and employs, management can look very different. One producer might follow a more-original, ecologically oriented set of protocols that prioritize practices such as crop rotation, interplanting, use of cover crops and green manures, and mechanical and biological pest controls. Such an approach might use a low-toxicity pesticide only as a last resort against a particular infestation. Yet, another farmer, using a different definition, may treat pests chemically much of the time. The authors write, “In the majority of cases, chemical control still remains the basis of [most IPM] plant health programs. . . . IPM is not consistent and not compatible with objectives of sustainability, particularly ecological [objectives].”

The researchers take to task the agrochemical industry for its “extensive lobbying, marketing, and wide-ranging manipulation” to advance chemical controls. They write, “Across the globe, IPM technologies struggle to find fertile ground and flourish in settings where farm advisers are paid (or decision-support tools are designed) by this industry, where farmers annually draw loans from chemical suppliers, or where the only accessible source of pest management information is to be found behind the counter of the pesticide shop. Biased information about IPM and pesticide safety thus abounds while the only behavior change that is fervently pursued is the one leading to sustained or enhanced company profits. There are now innumerable accounts of direct and covert interference by agrochemical companies and concerted efforts to sustain IPM beliefs that are aligned with their business plans.” 

IPM was created in the 1950s, and defined by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) as “the careful consideration of all available pest control techniques and subsequent integration of appropriate measures that discourage the development of pest populations and keep pesticides and other interventions to levels that are economically justified and reduce or minimize risks to human health and the environment. IPM promotes the growth of a healthy crop with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems and encourages natural pest control mechanisms.”

In 1979, its core principles were set out by the White House Council on Environmental Quality: “(i) potentially harmful species will continue to exist at tolerable levels of abundance; (ii) the ecosystem is the management unit; (iii) use of natural control agents is maximized; (iv) any control procedure may produce unexpected and undesirable effects; [and] (v) an interdisciplinary approach is essential.” The accompanying guidelines were these: “Analyze the pest status and establish thresholds; devise schemes to lower equilibrium positions; during emergency situations, seek remedial measures that cause minimum ecological disruption; and devise monitoring techniques.” Last, the federal definition asserted that IPM is about more than “integrating pest management technologies,” saying it should prioritize practices such that pesticides are used as a measure of last resort.

However, through the ensuing decades, the authors note, the number of varying definitions of IPM exploded; some researchers counted 67 various iterations between 1959 and 2000; others identified 42 between 1959 and 2016. The authors write, “It is likely that there are more than a hundred definitions of IPM today [and that] for each definition that emphasizes one particular feature of IPM, another can be found contradicting it. This has led to confusion and to highly inconsistent levels of implementation in the field.” They call out the “the swarm of definitions and interpretations of IPM, which mean we no longer know what we are referring to when we talk about IPM.”

They add that it is actually hard to find characteristics common to all definitions of IPM, though the researchers do proffer several they consider relatively common:

  • The primary aim is to integrate the different pest management techniques (regular cropping practices along with genetic, physical, biological, and chemical means).
  • [IPM] promotes socio-economic viability and a reduction in use of chemical pesticides to minimize the risks to the environment and public health.
  • IPM aims to make chemical and biological techniques compatible and synergistic.
  • The use of chemical pesticides is authorized only as a last resort, as implied in the universally accepted FAO definition.

The authors write, “Today, intensive farming has been shown to have reached its limits,” citing “the many harmful consequences of the massive use of pesticides . . . mounting pollution of water, soil and the atmosphere,” and the erosion of biodiversity (especially among insects and birds). They conclude, “This really is the breaking point that must bring about change among farmers. Also, to give more weight to this statement, mankind not only pollutes the planet and puts his health in danger, but the polluters themselves run economic losses. This system cannot be sustainable.”

They add, “It has been recognized that the sustainability of ecosystems in general, and agroecosystems in particular, depends on ecosystem health and functioning, of which the driving force is biodiversity (namely plant, animal and microbial communities — the latter represented by fungal, bacterial and viral organisms).” Having evaluated the failures of IPM, particularly as it has advanced the degradation of functional ecosystems, the research team advocates for a global transition to Agroecological Crop Protection (ACP), an “interdisciplinary scientific field that comprises an orderly strategy (and clear prioritization) of practices at the field, farm, and agricultural landscape level and a dimension of social and organizational ecology.”

ACP is a system whose principles are grounded in ecological concerns and inspired by some approaches to crop protection used in organic agriculture and/or permaculture. The researchers describe it as comprising three components: a scientific discipline, an ordered strategy of cropping practices, and a sociological movement within food systems. ACP seeks to establish (or re-establish) eco-biological balance of communities above and below the soil surface. It does so through preventative measures, and optimization of cropping practices and pest management methods so as to promote functional habitat for wildlife and counter nuisances affecting flora and fauna.

ACP shares features with early definitions of IPM and many, as well, with organic regenerative agriculture. As mentioned above, Beyond Pesticides understands and advances the need for a paradigmatic shift from dominant, chemically intensive approaches in agriculture to “nature cooperative” ones that embody, as Fred Kirschenmann, PhD has called it, our “ecological conscience.” Here in the U.S., the ACP concept might be seen as a similar “meta” rationale for the organic and regenerative agricultural sectors, as well as for the National Organic Program. As intense discussions (and machinations) about the future of agriculture ensue across the globe, Beyond Pesticides continues its advocacy for the transition to organic approaches to agricultural, and all, land management. Please join in to support this vital work.

Source: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13593-021-00689-w#Sec22

Agronomy for Sustainable Development is an international, peer-reviewed scientific journal that publishes original experimental, empirical, and theoretical research articles, review articles, and meta-analyses leading to enhanced sustainability for agricultural and food systems. The journal’s objective is to interface agronomy, cropping, and farming system research with ecological, genetic, environmental, economic, and/or social sciences.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 

 

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