03.12.2021

International Day of No Pesticide Use

Bee

The loss of pollinators therefore has grave consequences for the ecosystems while endangering global food production as well as our future food security. Photo: iStock.com/ViktorCap

Since 1998, the 3 December as the International Day of No Pesticide Use also marks the anniversary of theBhopal disaster in 1984. This preventable incident involving chemicals is considered one of the worst industrial accidents in history. More than half a million people were exposed to toxic gases from the pesticide factory operated by Union Carbide India in the Indian city of Bhopal. The leak caused almost 4,000 direct fatalities and left hundreds of thousands more with acute medical conditions, with many later succumbing to their injuries.

Since Bhopal, the rapid expansion of agriculture around the world has seen the global use of pesticides more than double to over four million tonnes annually. This is despite the scientific research clearly showing how the use of chemically synthesised pesticides is one of the main reasons for the dramatic decline in pollinating insects – often referred to colloquially as ‘bee die-off’. Most flowering plants worldwide are dependent on pollinators, including almost all species grown as fruit or vegetable varieties. The loss of pollinators therefore has grave consequences for the ecosystems in which they live, while endangering global food production as well as our future food security. In some countries, the dramatic decline in natural pollinators has created a situation where pollination must now be carried out by hand: examples include the cultivation of passion fruit in Brazil as well as almond plantations in China.

 

Biodiversity is not the only victim of pesticide use. Every year, around 41 million people suffer from the effects of accidental pesticide poisoning – this figure includes those working in agriculture itself as well as residents of nearby communities. Recent figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) also show how pesticides play a major role in hundreds of thousands of suicides, due to the availability of these highly toxic substances.

In June 2019, the Bundestag resolved to focus on agro-ecological approaches that avoid the use of chemically synthesised pesticides in Germany’s overseas development work (Bundestag Resolution no. 19/8941).

In mid-2021, Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze spearheaded an amendment to the Insect Conservation Act that introduced an exit strategy for the broad-spectrum herbicide glyphosate to protect biodiversity. For its part, the EU also launched its Biodiversity and Farm-to-Fork strategies in 2020, which aim to achieve a 50 percent reduction in pesticide use by 2030.

IKI projects to protect biodiversity and pollinators

Since the formation of the International Climate Initiative (IKI) in 2008, more than 300 biodiversity projects have been financed with a total funding volume of EUR 1.3 billion. The IKI is also working to support the transition to agroecology.

Several IKI projects in Africa and Latin America are focusing on the protection of natural ecosystems, and adjustments to agricultural systems that protect the ecosystem services provided by pollinators while reducing the vulnerability of local communities to the effects of pollinator decline. One example is the project “Conservation of pollinator diversity for enhanced climate change resilience” run by the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).The project is helping farmers in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey and the Palestine Autonomous Areas to introduce agricultural methods that promote wild pollinator populations while also remaining economically cost-effective.

In other IKI projects, such as the projects “Mainstreaming Biodiversity into the Mexican Agricultural Sector”, “Mainstreaming biodiversity into food value chains” and “Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services in Agrarian Landscapes”, IKI partners are working to achieve an increased focus on the value of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the policymaking and planning instruments utilised and applied by both government regulators as well as businesses working in the agricultural sector. As part of this work, instruments for biodiversity conservation and the promotion of sustainable land use practices are being developed and deployed to selected agricultural production systems and value chains. Related projects include the creation of seed banks in Tajikistan, the launch of an Intersectoral Forum for Agrobiodiversity and Agroecology in Kenya, cooperation with major corporations to reduce the use of pesticides in banana, pineapple and strawberry plantations in Latin America, and the organisation of online webinars (due to COVID) on agroecology in India. Good practice resulting from this work is then documented on the trilingual Panorama platform.

IKI safeguards also account for pesticide use

The IKI has also included the use of pesticides in its safeguards. Organisations implementing IKI projects must justify their use of pesticides, also citing reasons why this pesticide use is unavoidable. IKI projects are also prohibited from using highly hazardous pesticides according to the criteria defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).The following aspects must also be carefully assessed by all IKI-funded projects: working conditions, resource efficiency and the prevention of pollution, health, safety and the protection of communities, biodiversity and the management of natural resources, indigenous peoples and marginalised groups, as well as cultural heritage.