The success of IPM
As a substitute for pesticide use, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and the methods of organic agriculture can offer cleaner production methods
During the past three decades, indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides in agriculture has created serious health and environmental problems in many developing countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Program estimate that pesticide poisoning injures between one and five million agricultural workers per year. At least 20,000 workers die from exposure every year, the majority in developing countries.
Chemically polluted runoff from fields has also contaminated surface and ground waters, damaged fisheries, destroyed freshwater ecosystems and created growing “dead zones” in ocean areas proximate to the mouths of rivers that drain agricultural regions. Local agricultural pollution has now become a global problem, as toxic compounds from pesticides accumulate in oceanic food chains. Even the tissues of land mammals in “pristine” polar regions now contain significant toxic accumulations.
Although health and environmental effects of chemical pesticides are severe, to date information remains largely anecdotal. To a significant degree, there is also a general lack of reliable data on pesticide use in developing countries due to the high costs involved in primary farm-level data collection. The World Bank is committed to the promotion of sustainable agriculture in the partner countries, and for the past several years, the DECRG Infrastructure and Environment Unit (DECRG-IE) has been working to reduce this knowledge gap. This research program examines the severity of toxic agricultural pollution and analyzes the potential for adopting safer production methods.
The research on Toxic Pollution from Agriculture: Costs and Remedies began with a study of pesticide residues in agricultural crops imported into the US, primarily from Latin American countries, and as reported by the US Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program. The results suggest that farmers and consumers in developing countries are exposed to higher levels of toxic pesticides compared to higher income countries. The following research then explored the determinants of pesticide use in Brazil using municipal-level agricultural census data. Municipalities with higher shares of large-scale operations specializing in export crops were dominant pesticide users.
The next series of studies explored the economics of pesticide use at the farm-level with several surveys investigating pesticide overuse, pesticide misperceptions and health. Studies focused in two countries: Bangladesh and Vietnam. Pesticide overuse, misuse, lack of formal training and inadequate protection while handling pesticides were all found to be widespread. The consequences of these factors on human and environmental health could be quite serious. In the absence of reliable secondary information on the health effects of pesticide use, several studies were constructed to assess the relative health impacts. Farmer perceptions of own-health were recorded, clinical exams, blood and skin tests were performed.
As a substitute for pesticide use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and the methods of organic agriculture can offer cleaner production methods without many of the negative externalities mentioned above. Initiatives were launched in Bangladesh and Cuba to learn from farmer’s experience. However, externality problems make it difficult for farmers to adopt cleaner production alternatives, individually. The ongoing research in Vietnam is currently examining the role of the community and collective action in IPM adoption.The environmental externality of pesticide use is a subject of future research.