By: Sa’ad Dagher
crop diversification reduces pest problem
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
The spread of pests in modern agriculture is one of the serious problems that farmers and extension workers face and which can’t be solved by the "radical" solution they seek. Although they use large quantities and many types of chemical pesticides to eliminate pests, the problem has not been resolved. In contrast, in all cases, things have worsened and pests’ ability to kill crops have increased, requiring the continuous use of more dangerous pesticides affecting public health and the environment in general.
Farmers are stuck in a vicious cycle by continuing to practice the normal habitual agriculture based on the use of chemical pesticides in larger quantities. Insects continue to appear, increasing their strength and ferocity, and farmers use new ways to try eliminating them. Nevertheless, pests gain greater strength and immunity and are more adapted to chemical toxins, in a struggle for survival.
Malaria is the most clear evidence
In this futile battle, pests always win. There are no records in history indicating humans’ ability to eliminate pests, despite all the money added and efforts made. Some claim, while attempting to justify the use of agricultural chemical poisons, that without chemical pesticides, malaria would not have been "eliminated"! Here comes the question with a big question mark: How do the promoters of this claim continue to use chemical toxins based on this deceptive justification, while the facts state otherwise? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2016 Malaria was found in 90 countries, infecting 216 million people and killing nearly half a million. The report stated "significant increases in malaria in the Americas between 2014 and 2016”. To justify the use of toxic agricultural chemicals by claiming that it eradicated malaria is a weak argument that is not supported by facts and is misleading.
Some justify the use of agricultural chemical poisons (sometimes incorrectly referred to as medicines), by the need to produce more food, to feed humanity and reduce the loss of crops due to pests! However, according to the World Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food loss due to pests account for one-third of the crops (despite the use of a large quantity of pesticides), which has been almost constant for decades while using pesticides. On the one hand, thousands and even millions of tons of agricultural production are thrown into the sea to keep prices high instead of being given to hungry people, who under the pretext of feeding them, the use of agro-chemicals and GM seeds is justified. It is a flimsy argument intended to mislead.
The question that arises here is: Why is this vicious cycle going on? That is, why do we continue to use deadly and toxic pesticides that are harmful to our health and the health of the environment, while pests continue to damage agricultural crops? Why to use more pesticides, while pests continue to threaten the crop and harm it?
It may be more useful to start thinking about it from a new angle, based on a deeper understanding of the causes of the problem - the roots of the problem rather than dealing with the symptoms (e.g., by trying to eliminate the pests when they appear). Dealing with superficial symptoms will certainly not lead to the solution of the problem, unless the reasons that lead to its occurrence are taken into account.
We need to be freed from the vicious cycle of trying to eliminate pests with pesticides by reaching a permanent solution. In this context, it may also be important to rethink the issue of herbs in terms of considering them as pests. Conventional / chemical-based agriculture consider herbs as pests, instead of considering them as a source (see the previous article entitled "Agriculture and programming minds: Episode 2 (Herbs ": http://www.maan-ctr.org/magazine/article/2050/)
Pests are the problem
While dealing with pests one should focus on the assumption that the whole bio system changes if one element is modified. This rule comes from looking at the earth as if it was one living being, and is based on the interconnected relationships that combine all forms of life and non-living things within a bio- system.
Human beings always view pests as harmful. This may be true only from a profitable perspective and has led to the relentless search for ways to eradicate pests. Since the middle of the twentieth century in particular, the search for chemical methods was the basis of this approach, which is based on:
1- Use of chemical toxins (harmful to all living beings)
2- Dealing with the current problems when they arise, meaning treating the symptoms
3- Not paying attention to the roots of the problem, as a basis for dealing with it
From an environmental point of view, harmful insects are considered first-rate consumers, and their role in the food chain is sometimes important and sometimes unnecessary. However, if insects are absent, second-class consumers will not be able to live because they depend on first-class consumers, thus the food chain will malfunction. Insects remain within certain limits of the balanced ecosystem, and become harmful when the ecosystem is damaged, causing damage to crops. On this basis, it is possible to claim that the fundamental problem is not the insects, but rather the imbalance in the environment, which is causing the increase in harmful insects. That is, insects act as indicators that something has affected the ecological balance.
This is also the case for pathogens. They exist naturally and turn into a pest when a defect occurs, causing the disease of the plant. Again, the problem is not in the presence of the pathogen, but in the factors that cause the environmental imbalance. So the first step is to prevent the factors that lead to the imbalance.
The elimination of pests through chemicals is impossible, for simple and known reasons, pests are known for their rapid breeding, and large number of eggs These qualities allow the pests to quickly gain immunity , and thus continue to kill crops. Another factor that provides the right condition for the rapid spread of pests is the disappearance of natural enemies due to the frequent use of pesticides. This is because they do not have the same speed of reproduction and do not exist in as large numbers as pests. We are used to hearing that insects (in general) are "harmful". An example of this is the extent to which many have come to believe that the red earth worm is a harmful insect that must be eradicated with the use of pesticides. In reality, this worm has great benefits for agriculture in particular and humanity in general.
Based on the above, it is possible to say that pests are not the problem, but rather an indication of an imbalance. In order to rebalance the environment, and thus control the pests which only constitute symptoms. , a lot of work is needed.
Working on solving the problem by focusing on its roots, begins firstly by establishing a belief that pests are not the problem. Because in the case of a balance on the farm, the pests are no more a problem, but rather a symptom of a cause that must be identified and treated to bring things back to normal. The reasons always lie in the lack of environmental balance.
The work begins by taking preventive measures, which usually do not attract farmers but instead make them resort to chemicals. This happens for two reasons:
- Preventive measures work slowly and results appear on long term
- The effect of preventive measures is indirect when it comes to pests
The seven basic principles of action are (but not limited to):
- Diversification, which is the most important element of building a balanced ecosystem. The work is done through diversification of crop cultivation and mixed agriculture.
- The non-use of chemicals, as they are one of the most important factors to cause environmental imbalance
- Agricultural rotation and enriching the soil using natural fertilizers (animal fertilizers, green manure and compost).
- Choosing the most suitable time for planting, and the right farming distances.
- Selecting seeds and good seedlings (preferably local)
- Implementing the "attraction and alienation" system, which means planting plants that are attractive for beneficial insects while planting plants that are attracting harmful insects in the vicinity of the field. Plants that turn away harmful insects should be planted in between the plantations themselves.
- Strengthening the soil and increasing its fertility. The basic indicator of soil fertility is the amount of living creatures such as red worms, bacteria and fungi. The presence of these living creatures indicates that the soil is free from chemical toxins, on the one hand, and that it is rich in organic substances (humus), on the other hand.
These principles are valid for all types of agriculture, whether the cultivation of vegetables, trees or field crops. These principles require a deep knowledge and awareness of agricultural work, as opposed to chemical-based agriculture, which is based on ready-made recipes from genetically modified seeds companies, allied with chemical poisons companies.
Translated by: Ghadeer Kamal Zaineh
Edited by: Johanna Albinsson and Ghadeer Qawariq