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Safe Pesticides Could Halt This Plague of Pests Threatening Crops in Africa

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Pests like the fall armyworm threaten crop yields and food security across Africa. But pesticides, used to kill off the pest, also pose major risks to the environment and human health. Join us in taking action here to support communities experiencing food insecurity around the globe.

Experts have identified safer pesticides that could help control the armyworm, a pest that has been destroying crops and threatening food security across Africa and India for months, the Guardian reports.

Biopesticides could be the answer to the armyworm plague and food insecurity crisis that is expected to impact millions of smallholder farmers across the African continent, according to a study published on Monday by the Center for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI).

Since the armyworm outbreak was first reported in Nigeria in 2016, many farmers have attempted to save their crops by wiping out the insects with pesticides, which contain highly hazardous chemicals and pose severe risks to both human health and the environment.

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However, biopesticides — made from naturally-derived substances, microorganisms, and plant-based protectants — provide a safer, more sustainable alternative for farmers.

For smallholder farmers, who may not have adequate information and protective gear when handling chemical pesticides, using biopesticides could be a game changer for health outcomes and crops yields.

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After reviewing 50 biopesticides used in 19 African countries for their the effectiveness, safety, environmental impact, and availability to farmers, the study recommended that eight biopesticides be prioritized for use in the fight against the armyworm.

The Federal Agricultural Organization (FAO) has also created a framework to promote pesticide alternatives.

But, the higher cost of biopesticides is still a barrier for smallholder farmers in developing countries. And without a large customer-base, companies are are not willing to invest in registering and producing them, the Guardian reports.

It is an alarming trend that toxic products — from pesticides to unhealthy foods to greenhouse gas-emitting machines — are more readily available than their sustainable alternatives.

Read More: This Invasive Pest Is Threatening India's Food Security

Solutions to environmental crisis and food insecurity may be right in front of us, but we aren't adequately investing in them.

Biopesticides make up between $2 billion and $3 billion of the $56 billion pesticide market. However as the global population grows and there is an increasing need to produce food sustainably, biopesticides could be essential to agricultural innovation.

Governments can play a role in promoting the use of biopesticides through subsidies. This approach has already been taken up in Ghana, according to the study. And where biopesticides aren't available, governments could partner with private companies to spur local production.