Agroecology Alternatives to Pesticides and Herbicides | Part 1

With mixed signals being sent to farmers by EU authorities on pesticides and herbicides, what other options are there for food producers? Part 1 in a two part series by Oliver Moore. 

photo: www.istock.com / Nkarol
photo: www.istock.com / Nkarol

As often is the case, there are two contradictory, divergent pathways emerging in farming and food. On the one hand, Europe in particular is imposing restrictions on the use of pesticides, herbicides and other agri-industrial inputs. The partial neonicotinoid ban and the glyphosate licence renewal debacle exemplify this.

On the other hand, spurred on by globalisation in general and TTIP – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – in particular, pesticide restrictions are being lessened.

TTIP is a potential agreement, currently in negotiations between the EU and US, which is supposedly about easing trade between the two areas. However, revelation after revelation shows how the EU is moving away from the precautionary principle and towards the US so called chemical risk model of regulation of pesticides and other substances.

A 2015 reports from the Center for International Environmental Law found that 82 pesticides currently in use in the US, and banned in the EU, could be allowed in the EU post TTIP. These pesticides are “recognized as carcinogens, developmental toxins and suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals” the Guardian reported.

Also last year, it was revealed that, following pressure from US trade officials, plans to regulate 31 endocrine disrupting pesticides were shelved.

photo "Spray" by Will Fuller (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
photo “Spray” by Will Fuller (via flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Euractiv – a Brussels-based new agency – revealed that the EU Commission changed its work plan on endocrine disruptors, not because of the “complexity” of the operation, as Jean Claude Junker claimed. Rather, “the endocrine strategy was blocked because of lobbying by the cosmetics industry” a senior EU official told the media outlet.

In 2014, the Commission’s workplan clearly signposted the option of moving towards risk over precaution.

Recently Commission finally announced its classification system for endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

The Endocrine Society of Scientists and a former chief author on EDs for the Commission Professor Andreas Kortenkamp described it as “a total reversal of the intention of the regulation…the worst of all the possible outcomes. Risk assessments are precisely what industry has lobbied for, and the commission has given it to them” the Guardian reported.

If ever there was a case of mixed signals to farmers, the EU and its attitude to pesticides is it. But what are the options and alternatives to the pesticides in dispute? Is there another way?

bees
photo: “bee” by Pimthida (via flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In a letter developed for a a group of MEPs, for the Commission,  and seen by this journalist, a roadmap for a different way to grow food is outlined.

The context for this letter is the Glyphosate debacle, and the EU’s long-winded approvals debacle.

The letter describes the need for a transition to sustainable food production, including sustainable protection and nutrition of crops.

Importantly, it also outlines what is a roadmap to agroecology – in other words, a path for producers to jump off the pesticide threadmill and into a different way of producing.

This roadmap describes in some detail how each of the following seven key initiatives could help farmers produce sufficient yields without externalising (i..e passing onto the citizen and environment) some many of the costs of producing.

  1. Non-chemical techniques as alternatives to herbicide use
  2. Letting beneficial species do their work: IPM (Integrated Pest Management) and cascade approach, chemicals as last resort
  3. Advice and extension services, and exchange of farming knowledge
  4. Funding the transition via the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
  5. Coherence with EU biodiversity and climate change policy
  6. Increased ecosystem functioning means greater input autonomy for farmers
  7. A paradigm shift supported by science: Agroecology.

Next, we’ll explore these techniques for producing food without herbicides and pesticies.

A version of this article first appeared in the Irish Examiner newspaper

Oliver Moore
About Oliver Moore 191 Articles
Dr. Oliver Moore is the communications director and editor-in-chief with ARC2020. He has a PhD in the sociology of farming and food, where he specialised in organics and direct sales. He is published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies, International Journal of Agricultural Resources, Governance and Ecology and the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. A weekly columnist and contributor with Irish Examiner, he is a regular on Countrywide (Irish farm radio show on the national broadcaster RTE 1) and engages in other communications work around agri-food and rural issues, such as with the soil, permaculture, climate change adaptation and citizen science initiative Grow Observatory . He lectures part time in the Centre for Co-operative Studies UCC.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     A propos d'Oliver Moore Oliver voyage beaucoup moins qu’auparavant, pour ce qui concerne son activité professionnelle. Il peut néanmoins admirer par la fenêtre de son bureau les mésanges charbonnières et les corbeaux perchés au sommet du saule dans le jardin de sa maison au cœur de l’écovillage de Cloughjordan, en Irlande. L’écovillage est un site de 67 acres dans le nord du Tipperary. Il comprend d’espaces boisés, des paysages comestibles, des lieux de vie, d’habitation et de travail, ainsi qu’une ferme appartenant à la communauté. Les jours où il travaille dans le bureau du centre d’entreprise communautaire, il profite d’une vue sur les chevaux, les panneaux solaires, les toilettes sèches et les jardins familiaux.  Ce bureau au sein de l’écovillage constitue en effet un tiers-lieu de travail accueillant également des collaborateurs des associations Cultivate et Ecolise, ainsi qu’un laboratoire de fabrication (« fab lab »).  Oliver est membre du conseil d’administration de la ferme communautaire (pour la seconde fois !) et donne également des cours sur le Master en coopératives, agroalimentaire et développement durable à l’University College Cork. Il a une formation en sociologie rurale : son doctorat et les articles qu’il publie dans des journaux scientifiques portent sur ce domaine au sens large. Il consacre la majorité de son temps de travail à l’ARC 2020. Il collabore avec ARC depuis 2013, date à laquelle l’Irlande a assuré la présidence de l’UE pendant six mois. C’est là qu’il a pu constater l’importance de la politique agroalimentaire et rurale grâce à sa chronique hebdomadaire sur le site d’ARC. Après six mois, il est nommé rédacteur en chef et responsable de la communication, poste qu’il occupe toujours aujourd’hui. Oliver supervise le contenu du site web et des médias sociaux, aide à définir l’orientation de l’organisation et parfois même rédige un article pour le site web.  À l’époque où on voyageait davantage, il a eu la chance de passer du temps sous les tropiques, où il a aidé des ONG irlandaises de commerce équitable – au Ghana, au Kenya, au Mali, en Inde et au Salvador – à raconter leur histoire. Il se peut que ces jours-là reviennent. Pour son compte Oliver continuera de préférer naviguer en Europe par bateau, puis en train. Après tout, la France n’est qu’à une nuit de navigation. En attendant, il y a toujours de nombreuses possibilités de bénévolat dans la communauté dans les campagnes du centre de l’Irlande.