Pesticides: global consumption is increasing despite 60 years of integrated crop protection

Since it emerged in the 1960s, the concept of integrated pest management (IPM) has aimed, among others, to rationalise and reduce the use of chemicals to control crop pests. However, 60 years on, the quantity of pesticides used at the global level continues to increase. Soil, water and air pollution, pollinator decline, health impacts on ecosystems and human populations, development of resistance in crop pests, etc. To address the problems caused by the dependence on pesticides, agroecological alternatives are available. With other international authors, researchers from CIRAD and INRAE have published an analysis of more than 400 scientific references and are calling for a shift to crop protection based on the principles of agroecology.

Good intentions, hard realities”: the findings of the study published last month in Agronomy for Sustainable Development are difficult to accept, given just how prominent the concept of IPM has been over the last 60 years in the field of crop protection. The global consumption of pesticides continues unabated and the rare cases of reductions remain limited and localised. According to FAO, global pesticide use almost doubled between 1990 and 2018, increasing from 2.3 to 4.1 million tonnes*. The gap between “theory” and “practice” continues to grow, which the authors of the article believe is partly due to the uncertainty surrounding the concept of IPM.

Applying the principles of agroecology to crop protection essentially means improving soil health and developing biodiversity in and around cultivated land (hedges, “semi-natural” zones and other agroecological infrastructures), in order to encourage the presence of beneficial insects, in other words the natural enemies of crop pests. For around 10 years, CIRAD has been testing agroecological protection in different fruit and vegetable cropping systems.