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Pesticide-free crop protection could deliver billions in benefits

For the first time, experts have estimated the economic value of nature-based solutions for agricultural pest control. The CABI study has revealed that pesticide-free crop protection would deliver up to $20 billion in annual benefits across 23 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The research suggests that the economic gains of pesticide-free crop protection would exceed those attained through improved “Green Revolution” rice germplasm, which are estimated at $4.3 billion.

“The Green Revolution is credited with alleviating famine, mitigating poverty and driving aggregate economic growth since the 1960s – enabled through a tripling of rice output. Cornerstone of the Green Revolution were the ‘packaged’ seed x agro-chemical technologies and biological innovations such as high-yielding, disease-resistant cereal varieties,” said study lead author Dr. Kris Wyckhuys.

“Our research is the first to gauge the financial benefit of using biological control to fight crop pests in the Asia-Pacific region and demonstrates how these ecologically-based approaches promoted rural growth and prosperity in marginal, poorly-endowed, non-rice environments.”

“By thus placing agro-ecological innovations on equal footing with input-intensive measures, our work provides lessons for future efforts to mitigate invasive species, restore ecological resilience and sustainably raise output of global agri-food systems.”

Biological control is a pesticide-free method of protecting crops from pests such as insects, weeds, and plant diseases using other organisms. The scientists demonstrated how 75 different biological control agents mitigated 43 pests over a 100-year range.

“Biological control delivered durable pest control in myriad Asia-Pacific agriculture sectors, permitting yield-loss recoveries up to 73%, 81% and 100% in cassava, banana and coconut crops respectively,” said study co-author Dr. Michael Furlong.

“The ensuing economic dividends are substantial, as pest-induced losses up to US $6.8, $4.3 and $8.2 billion annually for the above crops were offset (at respective values of $5.4-6.8 billion, $1.4-2.2 billion and $3.8-5.5 billion/year, for a conservative to high impact scenario range). As many of the underlying programs were run on a shoestring, the rate of return on biological control science is extraordinary.”

“Our work constitutes an empirical demonstration of how insect biological control helped solidify the agrarian foundation of several Asia-Pacific economies and – in doing so – places biological control on an equal footing with other biological innovations such as Green Revolution germplasm.”

“Not only does it spotlight its transformative impacts – especially in light of increasing global reliance on chemical pesticides – but it also celebrates the century-long achievements of dedicated, yet often, unacclaimed insect explorers and biological control pioneers.”

The study is published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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