Seeds of Hope for the Global Food Systems and Biodiversity Crises

According to the United Nations projections, the world population will increase to 8.5 billion by 2030, as humanity faces one of their biggest challenges, food insecurity. Almost 193 million people in 53 countries suffered acute food insecurity in 2021.

Major producers around the world need to turn away from the damaging industrial agrochemicals and pesticides that are magnifying the current issues and explore new innovative techniques to ensure the world’s food security for the future.

Approximately USD 44tn of economic output – more than half of global annual GDP – is moderately or highly reliant on natural capital. Yet, humans have already transformed more than 70% of the Earth’s land area from its natural state, causing unparalleled environmental degradation and contributing significantly to global warming, according to UNCCD Global Land Outlook latest report.

“Our health, our economy, our well-being depends on land. Our food, our water, the air we breathe are all coming from the land, at least partially,” said Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UNCCD, in a call with reporters. “Humanity has already altered 70 percent of the land. This is a major, major figure.”

If degradation of the land keeps increasing at this rate, scientists predict that there will be large-scale food supply disruption, increase in biodiversity loss, extinction, more zoonotic diseases and decline human health, giving rise to poverty, hunger and pollution.

“Time is short, and the situation is dire,” said Qu Dongyu, the Direct-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). He added there needed to be a “transformation of agrifood systems to be more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable”.

Agroecology & Biocontrols VS Industrial Agriculture & Pesticides


The world’s industrial food systems haven’t found a solution to the food and biodiversity crises yet, mainly due to the fact that the solution may not appeal to the agribusiness giants, including the agrochemical industry, governments and world development banks, who usually seem to set the agenda and policies for the sector.

According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Public Development Banks invest about $1.4tn per year in the agriculture and food sector.

A report by the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), ‘Who Will Feed Us?’, mentions that small-scale producers provide food to 70% of the world, while using only 25% of the resources.

After all, there’s a solution to these crises available, a solution that serves people’s interest and the environment, instead of agribusiness corporations, public development banks and governments. We should be supporting agroecology as the solution to the food and biodiversity crises.

According to UNFSS, we don’t need “sustainable intensification”, “climate-smart agriculture” or ‘nature-positive solutions,” which often greenwash corporate agendas. Millions of smallholder farmers, fishermen, pastoralists, agricultural and rural workers, and entire indigenous communities practice agroecology, a way of life and a form of resistance to an unfair economic system that puts profit before life.

Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN-UK) are the only UK charity focused solely on tackling the problems caused by pesticides and promoting safe and sustainable alternatives in agriculture, urban areas, homes and gardens. PAN-UK promotes agroecological practices, guiding and supporting farmers across the world.

Agroecology practices include putting farmers first, promoting soil health, biodiversity and natural ecosystem function, integrating science with knowledge and practice, promoting complexity over simplicity, minimising waste and optimising energy.

According to PAN-UK, less than 0.1% of pesticides applied for pest control reach their target pests (Pimental, 1995). Replacing chemicals that cause harm to our health and biodiversity, including soil degradation, is essential. Agroecology improves farmers’ profitability, yield, health, food security, and better opportunities for women farmers.

Pesticides can damage our health, biodiversity, wildlife, pollute the air we breathe, the water we drink, soil, plants and everything else it touches. It’s also the cause of suicide and accidental deaths mainly in the global south. These toxic chemicals must be replaced with biological control or biopesticides.

Biocontrol

Biological control, or natural control, is a component of an integrated pest management strategy. It’s the reduction of pest populations by natural enemies, biological control of insects, weeds and plant diseases. Biocontrol is safer for the end-user and the environment.

The approval process and authorisation of innovative biocontrol is still slow, complex and differs from country to country. There is an urgent need to rethink data requirements on risk assessments and also create a worldwide integrated and simplified regulatory system, so every country is on the same page. This would also facilitate trade between countries and at the same time help to reverse biodiversity loss globally.

“We need a strong voice lobbying for biocontrols at the highest levels of government”, mentioned Nick Mole, PAN-UK policy officer at the World BioProtection Awards 2022.

Since Brexit, the UK’s deregulation plans on pesticides and GMO food have caused some concern, including possible free trade agreements with countries with lower food standards. The UK population may be consuming products with high level of pesticides, including unlabelled genetically engineered foods that may be available as early as 2023. Are we prepared to accept this?

“The indirect consequence is that people are starving in Africa because we are eating more and more organic products”, said, Erik Fyrwald, the CEO of Chinese-owned agrochemical giant Syngenta, to NZZ. This statement showed his opposition to organic farming.

Syngenta produces pesticides and GM seeds. The company’s Huddersfield factory exported a staggering 12,000 tonnes of the herbicide Paraquat and others in 2020. Paraquat was banned for use in the UK since 2007, as it’s been linked to be lethal to humans causing kidney failure, liver damage, DNA damage, Parkinson’s disease and death.  

A very interesting move from Syngenta Crop Protection AG is their recent acquisition of two products, NemaTrident® and UniSpore®, from UK-based biocontrol technology developer Bionema. Is this a sign that change may be under way?

With the right support from governments, farmers are keen to accept more sustainable solutions to protect their crops, retailers and the public are open and interested in healthier products and protecting the environment, therefore legislators should be on their side facilitating this process, turning this into a win-win situation.

This is time for corporations, scientists, environmentalists, activists, farmers, growers, the public, governments, legislators, regulators, and the entire world to come together and accept that change is essential to our survival and it must happen now!

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