3 New Studies Show Benefits of Eliminating Pesticides on Cotton Fields
Field schools that train farmers in alternative methods of pest control have succeeded in nearly eliminating the use of toxic pesticides by a community of cotton growers in Mali, according to a new Food and Agriculture Organization for the United Nations (FAO) study published yesterday by the London-based Royal Society.
The study was conducted in two areas—the Bla region of southern Mali, where FAO established a field school program in 2003, and a second area, Bougouni, where the program was not yet active.
While only 34 percent of all cotton-farmers in the area participated in the program, pesticide use on all of Bla's cotton farms—more than 4,300 households—dropped a staggering 92 percent. FAO's study further found that the move away from pesticide use had no negative impact on yields.
The Bougouni area, where training has not yet taken place, saw no change in pesticide use over the same eight-year period. This suggests that knowledge of alternative methods in pest control was further disseminated in the Bla area by program participants to other farmers in the area, underscoring the potential of farmer field schools to act as catalysts for widespread practice change.
Slashing their use of chemicals and shifting to alternative "biopesticides" like neem tree extract, growers in the Bla study group reduced their average individual production costs.
By refraining from applying more than 47,000 liters of toxic pesticides, the farmers saved nearly half a million dollars over the study period.
Training farmers in alternative methods of pest control proved to be three times more cost-effective than purchasing and using synthetic pesticides, according to FAO's analysis. More than 20,000 cotton farmers have been through field schools in Mali.
"We must learn from farmers' experience. Pragmatic, field-based and farmer-centric education can and must play a key role in making agriculture stronger and more sustainable," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. "At the end of the day, sustainable intensification will be the result of the collective action of millions of small farmers, who through their daily decisions determine the trajectory of agricultural ecosystems across the world."
An Important Crop
Cotton is the principal engine of economic development in Mali, where an estimated 4 million farmers grow the high-value crop, accounting for eight to nine percent of Mali's GDP and providing as much as 75 percent of the country's export earnings.
Usage of pesticides in Malian cotton doubled between 1995 and 2001, but yields nonetheless fell due to increasing resistance among pests.
New Tools for Monitoring Risks
Two related studies from the same FAO project also published yesterday by the Royal Society—authored by Oregon State University (OSU) scientists together with researchers in West Africa and at various institutions, including FAO—reveal the extent to which pesticide use in West Africa poses risks to human health and environment.
One of these studies, conducted in 19 different communities in five West African countries, used state-of-the-art risk assessment models to provide the first detailed analysis of pesticide risks for this region. The results highlight a number of specific pesticides that pose widespread and significant threats to human health and terrestrial and aquatic wildlife throughout the region.
The study also found that farmer workers and family members, including children are routinely exposed to high concentrations of toxic pesticides such as methamidophos and dimethoate, in the crops where they work. Protective clothing that reduces pesticide exposure is largely unknown in West Africa, and reports of ill health, hospitalization and death due to chemical exposure by farm workers are not uncommon.
Lead author Paul Jepson of the Integrated Plant Protection Center at OSU states "we were shocked to find such widespread use of highly toxic organophosphate pesticides, but by carefully studying and quantifying their use, we provide a basis for much needed action by policy makers, researchers and educators."
The authors suggest that a three-pronged approach to pesticide risk management, including monitoring systems to enable science-based decision-making, functional regulatory systems and effective farmer education programs.
The third study from the FAO project reports on the first use in the region of passive sampling devices (PSDs), developed by Oregon State University, which are technologically simple tools that sequester and concentrate a wide variety of pesticides and other chemicals found in the environment. The tool is a major advancement for monitoring pollution in remote areas of less developed regions.
PSD samples were deployed and then simultaneously analyzed in African and U.S. laboratories, as a proof of this concept. This opens the possibility for widespread analysis of pesticides in West African surface waters.
All three papers appearing yesterday in the Royal Society journal were co-financed by a six-country regional project, financed by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and executed by FAO, Reducing Dependence on Persistent Organic Pollutants and other Agro-Chemicals in the Senegal and Niger River Basins through Integrated Production, Pest and Pollution Management.
"This effort has facilitated a partnership between scientists around the globe and West African counterparts—the results are striking, and have the potential to transform the conversation about pesticide risks and sustainable crop management in this ecologically fragile region," said William Settle, who coordinates the FAO project in Mali.
FAO undertakes its work on pesticide management in West Africa through close working partnerships with governments in the region as well as organizations such as the CERES Locustox Laboratory and ENDA-Pronat group in Senegal and Oregon State University's Integrated Plant Protection Center.
Financing for the FAO program been provided by the European Union, the Government of the Netherlands, and a GEF/UNEP grant.
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By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.