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.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The 2020 hurricane season is now expected to be the most active since at least the early 1980s, meteorologists at Colorado State University, a standard bearer for seasonal hurricane predictions, announced Wednesday.
Three years ago, scientists predicted it would happen. Now, new NASA satellite imagery confirms it's true: two ice caps in Canada's Nunavut province have disappeared completely, providing more visual evidence of the rapid warming happening near the poles, as CTV News in Canada reported.
- Climate Explained: What the World Was Like the Last Time Carbon ... ›
- Polar Bears Could Be Nearly Gone by 2100, Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
- Greenland's Ice Sheet Is Melting at Rate That Surpasses Scientists ... ›
By Katell Ané
The European Commission launched a new Farm to Fork strategy in an effort to reduce the social and environmental impact of the European food system. It is the newest strategy under the European Green Deal, setting sustainability targets for farmers, consumers, and policymakers.
Facebook and Twitter removed posts by President Donald Trump and his campaign Wednesday for violating their policies against spreading false information about COVID-19.
- Rare Inflammatory Disease Linked to More Than 100 Childhood ... ›
- COVID-19: What Experts Think About Reopening Schools - EcoWatch ›
- Teens and Tweens Are Fastest COVID-19 Spreaders, New Study ... ›
- Researchers Are Creating a Drone to Study Wild Dolphins With Help ... ›
- These Whales Are Suffering a Slow-Motion Extinction - EcoWatch ›
By Alexander Freund
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab says he believes Tuesday's explosion in Beirut could have been caused by large quantities of ammonium nitrate stored in the port.
What Is Ammonium Nitrate?<p>Ammonium nitrate is a white crystalline salt that can be fairly cheaply produced from ammonia and nitric acid. It is soluble and often used as fertilizer, as nitrogen is needed for healthy plant development.</p><p>Ammonium nitrate in its pure form is not dangerous. It is, however, heat sensitive. At 32.2 degrees Celsius (89.96 degrees Fahrenheit), ammonium nitrate changes its atomic structure, which in turn changes its chemical properties.</p><p>When large quantities of ammonium nitrate are stored in one place, heat is generated. If the amount is sufficiently vast, it can cause the chemical to ignite. Once a temperature of 170 C is reached, ammonium nitrate starts breaking down, emitting nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas. Any sudden ignition causes ammonium nitrate to decompose directly into water, nitrogen and oxygen, which explains the enormous explosive power of the salt.</p>
Deadly Disasters<p>As ammonium nitrate is a highly explosive chemical, many countries strictly regulate its use. Over the past 100 years, there have been several disasters involving the chemical.</p><p>In 1921, for example, a massive blast occurred at a BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. About 400 metric tons of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate exploded, killing 559 people and injuring 1,977. The plant was largely destroyed in the blast, which could be heard as far away as Munich, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) distant.</p><p>In 2015, explosions caused by ammonium nitrate ripped through the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/china-convicts-dozens-for-last-years-giant-explosions-in-tianjin/a-36324321" target="_blank">Chinese port city of Tianjin</a>. Eight hundred metric tons of the chemical were said to have been stored along with other substances in a warehouse for hazardous materials. The blasts killed 173 people and destroyed an entire city district.</p><p>Two years earlier, in 2013, an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company site in Texas, killing 14 people. And in 2001, 31 people died in Toulouse, France, in an explosion caused by the chemical.</p>
Terrorist Favorite<p>In Germany, the purchase and use of ammonium nitrate is regulated by the explosives act. This is because the cheap, highly explosive and relatively easily obtainable material has in the past been used by terrorists to carry out attacks.</p><p>For example, in 1995, U.S. conspiracy theorist and gun enthusiast Timothy McVeigh used a mixture of ammonium nitrate and other substances to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik also used ammonium nitrate in a car bomb attack in Oslo in 2011.</p>
- 5 Ways to Keep Unhealthy Nitrates and Nitrites Out of Your Body ... ›
- The Price of Our Fertilizer Addiction - EcoWatch ›
- 8 Disturbing Facts About Monsanto's Evil Twin—The Chemical ... ›
By Michelle D. Holmes
Most Americans know about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans primarily through their colorful representations: the original food pyramid, which a few years ago morphed into MyPlate. The guidelines represent the government mothering us to choose the healthiest vegetables, grains, sources of protein, and desserts, and to eat them in the healthiest portions.
As innocuous as the food pyramid and MyPlate seem, they are actually a matter of life and death.
- 6 Powerful Ways to Improve Mental Health - EcoWatch ›
- New, Improved Vegetarian and Vegan Food Pyramid - EcoWatch ›
- Dr. Mark Hyman: Here's How the Food Pyramid Should Look ... ›