The Pesticide Detox Towards a More Sustainable Agriculture by Jules Pretty

Bibliographic Information:
Title: The Pesticide Detox Towards a More Sustainable Agriculture
Editor: Jules Pretty
Edition: Illustrated
Publisher: Etherscan (Taylor and Francis Group)  
Length: 317 pages
Size: 1.25 MB
Language: English

There was once a town where all life seemed to live in harmony with its
surroundings. The town lay in the midst of a checkerboard of prosperous
farms, with fields of grain and hillsides of orchards. . . Then a strange blight
crept over the area and everything began to change. . . There was a strange
stillness. . . It was a spring without voices. . . The people had done it
With these words Rachel Carson’s fable of a Silent Spring (1963) became famous
worldwide. She painted a picture of a healthy community in town and countryside.
This idyll, which could be anywhere in the past, delights visitors and locals
alike. But it falls into a mysterious silence, ‘which lay over fields and woods and
marsh’. The community had withered and died, and apparently all because of the
widespread use of pesticides. This simple story is so compelling that more than
2 million copies of the book have been sold, and it continues to sell well. This is
impressive for any book, let alone one mainly documenting the ills of the world.
Of course, the truth behind the fable plays out rather differently in real life,
as no town has died solely because of agricultural pesticides, and neither has all
the wildlife been eliminated. But there is something in what she says that remains
significant more than 40 years later. Since the early 1960s, the world population
has more than doubled, and agricultural production per person has increased
by a third. Over the same period, the use of modern inputs for farming has grown
dramatically, and they have been very effective in helping to increase agricultural
yields. Pesticides are now available in the remotest regions of the world. Farmers
can see their short-term effect – killing insects, weeds and diseases, and leaving
the crops and animals to flourish. Yet there has been a hidden cost to pay. Harm
to environments and human health has accompanied some of these fundamental
changes in food production systems. For far too long we have accepted these
costs as the unfortunate but necessary side-effects of progress.
Yet in the last decade of the 20th century, many communities around the
world have begun to see some remarkable revivals. The pesticides that harm
environments and human health are increasingly being identified, and alternative,
cheaper and safer management methods have been developed and now
adopted by several million farmers. Food production by these farmers has not
been compromised, which is a surprise to many. Something is happening. The
spring may have been silent, but the prospects for the 21st century are now
changing. In a small Asian village a rice farmer says ‘my fields have been silent for
30 years, now they are singing again’. Pesticides had eliminated the unnecessary
wildlife, but now the frogs are back. What brought about these changes? When
Asian rice farmers first began to learn about the beneficial effects of predators
and parasites in field schools, and about how to grow rice with limited or no
pesticides, they changed their practices by the tens of thousands. Yields were
maintained or improved, and costs cut substantially – good for both families and
the environment. This time, the people have done the right thing for themselves.
Remarkably, this story is beginning to be played out in different ecological
and social settings around the world. But progress towards safer agriculture is
still relatively rare. Each year, pesticide use in agriculture amounts to some 2.5
billion kg – about 400g for every person on the planet. Yet we still have limited
knowledge about the causal relationships between harmful products and
adverse health and environmental problems in the field and at home. Some
people say these costs simply have to be accepted, as sustainable alternatives
cannot work for both the environment and food security. Despite great progress,
the world’s agricultural and food systems are still not always ready to take on
board the principles of sustainability.
This book seeks to address some of these difficulties and set out some new
solutions. Pests, diseases and weeds eat, infiltrate and smother crops and grab
their nutrients. If farmers stood back and let nature take its course, there would
be insufficient food. They must do something. Pesticides are easy to use, although
often costly for farmers. In addition, they frequently involve considerable costs
to society in the form of public health and environmental costs. Alternatives often
appear more difficult to implement, but are more sustainable in the long term.
Their broad introduction, however, continues to face many challenges.
There is, perhaps, less of a choice than many may like to think. Recent food
scares have underscored the importance of food safety. Contamination of water
resources with pesticide residues is increasingly becoming an important issue in
a growing number of countries. And recent studies are indicating that the
poisoning of farmers and their families in developing countries is far worse than
previously thought.
Governments are now beginning to tighten their pest and pesticide management
policies, supported by a growing body of evidence to show that food can
be produced in more sustainable ways. There is enormous scope for further
reductions in pesticide use, and where pesticide use remains justified, there are
often less hazardous alternatives to the products currently being used. This book
describes the problems associated with pesticide use and highlights a range of
initiatives that provide viable alternatives, with special attention given to
integrated pest management (IPM).

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