The Importance of Integrated Pest Management

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When you look at the state of our environment it’s clear that things are going to have to change, though it’s not clear whether it’ll be voluntarily or out of necessity. What will help define that answer will be the actions that we decide to take as a society. One thing we can do to help our situation will be to incorporate Integrated Pest Management into our practices, whether in gardening or in agriculture, so that the techniques and education around it can become widespread. It’s going to take an effort on all our behalves because it won’t be easy due to the various factors in play that could interfere with the adoption of IPM.

One said factor is the belief that many farmers have that “the only good bug is a dead bug.” At its core, this statement goes against everything that IPM stands for. Integrated Pest Management is all about seeing nature as an ecosystem rather than just a tool for our survival. It requires an understanding of how plants interact with their environment and how that relationship can be affected and have negative or positive consequences. It requires monitoring in order to understand the ecosystem that you are interacting with, as everyone has different factors that will affect it. The soil is different, the climate is different, and therefore the plants and animals that thrive in that environment are different. For this reason, the type of management for pests will be different, which requires a lot of monitoring in order to understand the proper approach for each individual circumstance. First and foremost, this means those farmers who believe that there are no good bugs will have to go through a perspective change. Maybe equally as difficult, they will have to invest in education and experimentation in order to get an understanding of how to incorporate IPM into their agricultural practices. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury or the resources to invest in either of those two. For some farmers, experimentation can lead to an unsuccessful season, which could mean the loss of their farm. Agriculture is a cutthroat business, and ironically, those who help feed our society many times don’t have enough to feed their own families.

For this reason I believe it’s important that more of us start adopting IPM, whether we interact with plants as a hobby or as a profession. The more people who accept it and experiment with it, the more answers we have available and the less risk is associated with IPM. Combine this with Agricultural Extension Agencies along with the ability to distribute information faster due to the internet and you have the means to expand education. Though this brings up another issue, that being that farmers in less developed countries don’t always have access to these Extension Agencies and many of them are smaller, single-family operations that feel safer relying on their time-tested pesticides instead of experimenting with IPM. This means that the barrier of entry has to be reduced so that it requires less time to understand IPM and have a sense of what you’re doing. This could mean creating guidelines for “what if” situations or having more hands-on training that these farmers can attend so that they can witness the benefits of IPM first hand.

Lastly, another factor we have to account for is the agrochemical companies who have nothing to gain from the widespread adoption of IPM. These companies have relied on their pesticides to bring in billions of dollars, and some have gone as far as purchasing seed companies so that they have a hand in every level of food production. The purchase of these seed companies, along with their political lobbying, has allowed them the opportunity to patent said seeds and make it difficult for farmers to have the freedom of deciding what crops they grow and how they grow it. One example is the “Green Revolution” in which agrochemical companies produced genetically modified seeds which were said to produce more efficient and abundant crops. Problem was, these seeds required a very specific environment and were not adapted to thrive in case there was a drought or unseasonably hot weather, which unfortunately was the case in India and led to the loss of crops for hundreds of farmers. This ultimately led to an increase in farmer suicides because they would rather lose their life than lose a farm that had been in their family for generations.

Yet that is simply one example of how agrochemical companies have had a hand in deciding the fate of farmers under the guise of producing more efficient crops. Many of the patented seeds have been modified so that they don’t produce a viable seed which means the farmer has to buy more every season, essentially making them subscribers to something that is essential for their survival. Not only that, but if the GM crop were to cross pollinate a neighboring farm, that cross pollinated crop is now protected under the patent and the farmer who owns that crop is now liable to have to pay the company for using their seed. These companies have also introduced seeds modified to withstand broad-spectrum pesticides so that the farmers can simply spray their entire field and not have to worry about their crop being affected, or so they’re made to think. The problem is that they’re essentially destroying their ecosystem and making their crops even more dependent on the application of pesticides and fertilizers as the plants no longer have a means to naturally defend themselves. This, in turn, creates a vicious cycle which many cannot find a way out of.

With that being said, it’s important for us to go through a paradigm shift in which we start to recognize the environment as something that is alive and can take care of itself, as long as we allow it to do so. This means working alongside nature, rather than trying to control it, and truly taking the time to understand how it operates. If we can do that, then I think we’ll be okay.

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