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  • Three-quarters of the world's most important crops exhibit a yield benefit from pollinators.

    Three-quarters of the world's most important crops exhibit a yield benefit from pollinators. | Photo: AFP

Published 10 June 2020
Opinion

"The evidence is clear: pesticide use is wiping out insect populations and ecosystems around the world, and threatening food production."

A new report released Tuesday draws attention to the worldwide decline in insects and warned of the impact that this could have on global food cultivation and ecosystems.

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The publication entitled Insect Atlas, which comes from two progressive networks: Brussels-based Friends of the Earth and Berlin-based Heinrich Böll Foundation after the results found, made calls for global policies to boost the conservation of agriculture and the insects, but also to combat industrial agriculture.

While there's no definitive count of the global loss of insects, Insect Atlas says the trend is unmistakable and warned that the decline would have significant impacts on food.

"Three-quarters of the world's most important crops exhibit a yield benefit from pollinators: they contribute directly to around one-third of global food production," says the report.

The methods used for that production have a massive impact on insects.

"Alongside climate change and light pollution, the spread and intensification of farming is by far the most important cause of the global decline in insect numbers," the report adds.

This type of farming is dependent upon expanding pasture—often at the expense of destroying Indigenous land and wild animal habitat—and prioritizes monocultures and therefore insect-killing pesticides, the use of which has steadily increased for the past nine decades, the economic profits of which are predominantly flowing towards just four entities:  BASF, Bayer, Syngenta, and Corteva.

What is more, the number of chemical products in use around the world continues to increase. And, their adverse effects on the insect world are also becoming more and more evident. This is not just because a growing number of chemicals are being applied; the formulations are also increasingly effective and can be used more selectively.

Even when some nations ban certain pesticides over concerns, the chemicals' adverse impacts don't disappear; they just change locations. 

"The global loss of insects is dramatic," Heinrich Böll Foundation president Barbara Unmüßig said in a statement.

The report also points to various studies documenting that loss, including 2018 research finding 41% of insect species are in decline and that one-third of all insect species are threatened by extinction. 

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimated that 10 percent of insect species are endangered, and another study cited in the new analysis found that at least one in 10 bee and butterfly species in Europe is threatened with extinction.

Dismantling industrial agriculture, says the report, is essential. "There is no alternative: to protect insects; farming must become part of the solution. Not just for the sake of society, but  also for the sake of farming itself—because it, too, needs insects."

"The evidence is clear: pesticide use is wiping out insect populations and ecosystems around the world, and threatening food production," Mute Schimpf, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said in a statement.

"A handful of corporations control the bulk of pesticide supply, and if left unchecked will continue to use their immense political influence to lock in a system of industrial farming which will continue to wipe out nature and destroy rural communities," she added.

Meanwhile, as the developed world is waking up to the risks associated with the use of pesticides, the situation is different in the developing world: chemicals that are banned in Europe and North America are still used routinely to control pests. Stricter controls are needed, along with better information for farmers.

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