UN applauds natural pest controls used by farmers in Mali

Cotton farmers in Mali using natural pest controls to replace chemical pesticides have been applauded by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation.

A new study for the FAO, published by Royal Society in London, shows that cotton growers trained in FAO field school have eliminated 92% of their annual chemical pesticide usage relative to eight years ago.

By using “biopesticides” like neem tree extract, they have also reduced their average individual production costs. By not applying 47,000 litres of pesticides, the farmers saved almost €400,000 over the study period. Growers who have not attended training have seen little or no change in pesticide usage in the same period.

The study also concluded that the move away from pesticide use had no negative impact on yields.

FAO director general José Graziano da Silva. “Pragmatic, field-based and farmer-centric education must play a key role in making agriculture stronger and more sustainable. 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.”

Training farmers in alternative methods of pest control proved to be three times more cost-effective than purchasing and using synthetic pesticides, the FAO found. Some 20,000 cotton farmers have been through field schools in Mali.

The study was conducted in two areas. The first was the Bla region of southern Mali, where FAO established a field school programme in 2003. The second area was Bougouni, where the programme was not yet active.

While only 34% of all cotton farmers in the area attended the programme, pesticide use on all of Bla’s cotton farms — 4,300 households — dropped 92%. The Bougouni area, where training has not yet taken place, saw no change in pesticide use.

The Royal Society said this suggests updates of the pest control project was passed on by the Bla trial participants to their neighbouring farmers. The society said this word-of-mouth sharing of information suggests the field schools could themselves act as catalysts for widespread practice change.

The society has published two reports by scientists in Oregon State University (OSU) working with researchers in West Africa. These reports focused on health and environmental impacts of pesticide use.

One study of 19 African communities cautioned 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.

The authors suggest that a three-pronged approach to pesticide risk management, including monitoring systems to enable science-based decision-making, regulatory systems and effective farmer education programmes.

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