SEPTEMBER 1986 - VOLUME 7 - NUMBER 13
T H E P E A C E C O R P S
A Better Way to Kill in a Bug Eat Bug World
by Jessica Robins
Unlike the chemical and pesticide industry, "There's no money to be made in IPM," says Dale Bottrell, entomology professor at the University of Maryland. This, he says, is one of the major roadblocks to steering farmers away from hazardous pesticides and putting them on the path toward successful integrated pest management (IPM).
As one who specializes in pest management, Bottrell's primary goal is to promote IPM throughout the Third World. The obstacles are huge, stretching across economic, cultural, political and scientific bounds. In spite of these difficulties, there have been heartening IPM successes.
Using a systematic approach to reducing pest damage, IPM promotes a variety of techniques, including encouraging natural predators and pathogens, introducing genetically pest-resistant plants and environmental modifications, and-when "necessary and appropriate"-using chemical pesticides.
Although IPM has been practiced for centuries, with the advent of modern research, chemical pesticides quickly took the place of biological controls. The widespread development of synthetic organic chemicals after World War II put new and deadly insecticides like DDT and herbicides like 2,4,-D on the market. A giant chemical industry evolved, and with it, high hopes of a pest-free environment. Farmers became increasingly dependent upon these new pesticides. Production within the United States alone increased from 464,000 pounds in 1951 to about 1.47 billion pounds in 1977.
Unfortunately, pesticides have not proved to be a panacea. Pesticides often indiscriminately destroy ecological systems by damaging organisms other than target pests. Of the world's one million insect species, only ten percent are considered destructive to crops. The rest can be beneficial: many prey on harmful insects, while others act as pollinators, scavengers, or even serve as human food. According to entomologist Robert Metcalf of the University of Illinois at Urbana, the greatest single factor preventing insects from overwhelming the rest of the world is the internecine warfare they carry out among themselves. In contrast to chemicals, insect warfare is harmless to all but the insect species targeted by the predator.
The human health hazards of pesticide use, though largely ignored by both farmers and manufacturers of pesticides, were known to be significant as early as the 1920s when regulations were established in the United States on arsenic and lead residue on produce. While the developed world has begun to look critically at the health impact of pesticides, in the developing world the use of pesticides (often banned in the West) continues.
Many developing countries import pesticides and use them on both subsistence crops and exported cash crops. These export crops, complete with large amounts of pesticide residues, are then shipped to the developed world. Residents of developed nations, in turn, consume these foods, which may have been contaminated with a pesticide banned in their own country. Coffee, tea, bananas, and tomatoes, for example, are often sprayed with pesticides banned in the U.S. but used in the Third World.
Repeated use of pesticides can also create resistant strains of pests, making insect population control more difficult. When pesticide-resistant strains evolve, they leave previously effective pesticides totally worthless.
Today much of the world is tremendously dependent upon an increasingly ineffective, expensive and hazardous system of pest control. Integrated pest management (IPM), however, offers an alternative control system that depends primarily on non-chemical devices which, if carefully chosen, kill the offending bugs without harming other insects, animals, or people.
IPM advocates reject the notion that the presence of any pest necessarily justifies control. The cost of controlling a pest is measured against the loss caused by the pest. If the cost of control is greater, inaction is considered the best alternative.
In the United States, IPM programs have focused on cotton, citrus fruits, deciduous fruits, corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and pine trees. Efforts to control the insects and mites that attack these crops account for more than 70 percent of the insecticides applied annually on U. S. cropland.
According to one 1978 national study, up to 80 percent of insecticides used could be eliminated with no reduction in crop yields. In Texas, for example, insecticide use on cotton decreased from 19.3 million pounds in 1964 to 2.3 million in 1976. Farmers' profits in one Texas IPM program increased from $62 per acre to $170 per acre.
Jerome Goldstein, author of The Least Is Best Pesticide Strategy, found that by dangling a dripping croquet ball covered with red paint and a sticky insect attractant in their apple orchards, farmers could successfully control insects with much less pesticide. These mock-apples, hanging amidst the real fruit, attract insects that once covered the tree. Through this simple process, large apple growers can cut out several pesticide sprayings a year. In small orchards IPM could eliminate the need for sprayings altogether.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has also dabbled in IPM. "A couple hundred thousand dollars a year is spent on different projects," said Paul Schwartz, USDA staff scientist. But he added, "It's really nothing of any great significance." The money acts only as a supplement to the budgets of individual integrated pilot pest management projects. "It's up to the farmers and volunteer agencies to implement IPM, but we've demonstrated from a research point of view that it can be done," said Schwartz.
Groups like the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Bank, the Agency for International Development, churches and private institutions fund IPM research and implementation.
Some of the most successful examples of IPM come from the Third World where it has been used to control pests on non-food crops like cotton and cocoa.
"There is no doubt that these natural agents have opened the eves of farmers and researchers alike to a better path toward insect pest management," said Domingo C. Abadilla, of the Citizens' Alliance for Consumer Protection. "Biological control has finally arrived [and] it is here to stav because it is the only sensible alternative to the petrochemical pesticides which are being vomited out bv the earth's ecosystems."
Evaluations of IPM programs are also encouraging. Pesticide use is reduced while user profits are increa~ed.
Although the chemical industry, which reaps millions of dollars of profits from pesticides annually, relegates IPM to a low priority, the recent interest in IPM has spurred some pesticide manufacturers to promote their own version of IPM. In many cases, however, these IPMlike solutions appropriate actual IPM techniques such as counting pest populations and then combine them with an even greater concentration of chemicals.
Growing insect resistance to pesticides has forced some chemical companies to enter the field of integrated pest management. To ensure that their chemical products will remain effective, these companies must advocate limiting the amount and frequency of sprayings, one of the basic tenets of IPM.
"The pesticide market has peaked, matured, isn't going anywhere," said Sheila Daar of the Bio-integral Resource Center, an organization based in Berkeley, California that tells farmers and homeowners how they can cut costs and pesticide hazards through IPM methods. Chemical companies are increasingly marketing IPM solutions, Daar says.
But IPM practitioners argue that the type of pest management advocated by the industry is far from what is needed.
"IPM is a concept, it's a package of bits and pieces," says Professor Bottrell. "There are certain steps you have to take-it's more of a program than just a control method. That's how it's unique and differs from strict chemical control."
Bottrell concedes, however, that in some cases the chemical industry is contributing to IPM's program by providing formulations which allow a reduction in the use of pesticides for more cost-effective use.
Pesticide abuse has created such high levels of pest resistance, said Daar, that "people are left with no options but to try to integrate a variety of strategies."
Few governments, however, have been anxious to get involved in IPM. Although President Carter ordered the federal agencies to form an inter-agency work group to advance IPM throughout the federal government, that program was abolished when Reagan took office. In 1980, the United States spent less than 5 percent of the total federal budget for pest control ($850 million) on IPM programs.
But research, stresses Bottrell, is just a small part of IPM. "The real challenge is implementation," he says, "getting farmers to use it."
For more than a quarter of a century farmers have looked to chemical pesticides to increase production. In 1945, the United States used about 50 million pounds of insecticide a year and lost seven percent of the preharvested crops to insects a year. In 1985, the United States used 600 million pounds and lost thirteen percent of the nation's crops. Despite an eleven-fold increase in pesticide use, the country's insect problem has doubled.
These expensive and often ineffective pesticides have been costly for both consumers and farmers. Getting farmers to accept or even consider IPM strategies over their more familiar chemical controls will be a slow process. But in the end, says Bottrell, it is the price that will bring farmers around to IPM.
"The chemical companies will have their heyday," he said. But, "IPM is a very realistic alternative. It's costeffective and that's what's going to sell it. It's the economic driving factor that's causing farmers in this country to switch over to IPM."
Jessica Robbins is a chemistry and science technology student at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York