Why are pesticides used?
Pesticides have been used for at least a thousand years. The ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans used various forms of pest control including chemicals on a range of insect and fungus pests.
Democrates in 470Bc used olive extracts to prevent blight on plants while the Chinese used ants as biological controls to protect their trees from insect pests.
Pesticides are used for food production, health protection and weed and fungus control in a wide range of industrial and commercial as well as agricultural settings. Industry frequently argues that there are no real alternatives to large-scale pesticide usage if the food needs and disease control requirements of the world population are to be met. Many pesticides have been used on cash crops in the developing world and do not benefit subsistence food production. Sometimes pesticides may be a factor in damaging that subsistence food production through pest resistance and also in creating difficulties in controlling disease vectors like the mosquito.
Many people are entirely unconvinced that large agrochemical inputs are needed to protect food supplies when we have large food surpluses. It is equally a nonsense to suggest that we must have massive agro-chemical inputs in the world to ensure food for the inevitably ever-growing world population. The finite resources of the world indicate that the wise solution lies somewhere other than planning for an ever-increasing population.
There are alternatives to large-scale pesticide usage but one would not expect those making chemicals to advocate large-scale integrated pest management programmes and the development of organic farming. But these are alternatives and we shall look at them later.