A new study has found that nearly two-thirds of the world’s farmland is at risk of pesticide pollution, prompting fears of future food insecurity.
What is Happening?
- Published in the journal Nature Geoscience, the research looked at the use and spread of 92 active pesticide ingredients in 168 countries. An area was considered to be at risk if the concentration of a chemical exceeded the limit at which it has no effect, and at high risk if that concentration exceeded the limit by a factor of 1 000.
- The researchers looked at 59 herbicides, 21 insecticides and 19 fungicides and based their calculations on application rate data from the U.S. Geological Survey and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. They then used a model to estimate how much of the pesticides would remain in the soil, atmosphere, groundwater and surface water.
In a statement by the University of Sydney, lead author Dr Fiona Tang said, “Our study has revealed 64% of the world’s arable land is at risk of pesticide pollution. This is important because the wider scientific literature has found that pesticide pollution can have adverse impacts on human health and the environment.”
- Further, 31% of farmland was at high risk from pesticide pollution.
- Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are widely used to boost productivity in farming. However, they can affect environmental and human health, the latter of which happens when they enter bodies of water through runoff or by entering the groundwater, contaminating drinking water. Pesticides like chlorpyrifos have also been shown to harm the cognitive development of children, while others have been linked to cancer. They also pose a threat to wildlife such as bees and birds.
- 34% of the high risk areas were in regions with high biodiversity while 5% were in water-scarce areas, the study found. 19% of the high risk areas were in low or middle income countries.
- Regionally, Asia had the most high-risk land, with China, Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines especially impacted, the press release said. In Europe, almost 62% of agricultural land was at high risk. This was largely due to high concentrations in Russia, Ukraine and Spain.
- Pesticide use is expected to increase in the coming years because of the climate crisis and population growth.
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Study coauthor and University of Sydney associate professor Federico Maggi says, “In a warmer climate, as the global population grows, the use of pesticides is expected to increase to combat the possible rise in pest invasions and to feed more people.”
- However, the authors urged a different path. “We urgently recommend that a global strategy is established to transition towards sustainable agriculture and sustainable living with low pesticide inputs and reduced food loss and food waste to achieve responsible production and consumption in an acceptable, profitable system,” they wrote.