7. “Pest” Management: Toward a Sustainable Agriculture

The modern farming model that dominates agricultural landscapes worldwide is based on a number of assumptions:

  1. Farmers have abundant resources, including water, access to resources like tractors, financial capital, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
  2. Farmers have equal access to these resources.
  3. Biotech industries have people’s best interest in mind.
  4. A globalized economy is best for farmers.

As you’ve learned throughout this course, these assumptions are not accurate for all parts of the world, and the industrial farming regime has countless ecological and social consequences. Since access to capital, land and other resources haven’t been equally distributed, and following a vicious history of colonization, many farmers don’t actually have a fair chance to be successful in the industrial agriculture model of farming. However, thanks to ubiquitous advertising, farmers are told that the only way to be successful is to buy into the industrial model of agriculture anyway. Often, pesticides and fertilizers are one of the first technologies they adopt.

Modern pesticides were a by-product of World War II. Originally biological weapons, once the war was over the chemical industry needed a new market to sell these products. Agriculture became the logical place to use these products, against insects and weed pests. The chemical DDT was even used beyond just agricultural control, but for control of mosquitos and lice directly on humans. While pesticides were successful at immediately increasing productivity due to their effectiveness at killing insects, their lasting ecological effects and the resistance many insects and weeds have developed against them have made them problematic in the long-term. In our final Lesson, you’ll explore how industrial agriculture pits farmers against nature, learn the history of pesticides and project a future if we continue to use this model, analyze the idea of “pest”, and learn how agroecology can offer many alternative strategies for pest management and whole-ecosystem health.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Be able to describe the history of the development of insecticides and herbicides.
  2. To apply a systems-thinking approach to understand the role of insects, plants, and animals (both desired and volunteer species) in agroecosystems.
  3. To develop a pest and weed management plan based on agroecological principles.
  4. To evaluate the dangers posed to farmworkers by pesticides and inhumane working conditions.
  5. To suggest solutions to the current decline in pollinators.