On Biodiversity Day, CABI’s Global Director for Invasive Species, Hariet Hinz, examines how reducing pesticide risks and using nature-based solutions, together with an Integrated Landscape Management approach, can help to prevent biodiversity loss.

Biodiversity loss is proceeding at an unprecedented pace, jeopardizing the stability of natural ecosystems. This loss carries inherently negative implications. However, it also worsens other significant global challenges, such as increasing vulnerability to climate change, limiting options for climate adaptation and threatening food security.

Among the many causes of biodiversity loss is excessive use of synthetic pesticides. Chemical fungicides, herbicides and insecticides pose significant threats to biodiversity, especially in developing countries where accessing accurate and reliable information about pesticide use can be challenging. Take, for example, pesticide overuse, which can cause runoff into water sources. A recent study in Ethiopia assessed pesticide risks in the aquatic ecosystems of at least 18 of the country’s distinct surface water bodies. The study found that around 40% of identified pesticides posed acute and significant risks to aquatic life.

Reducing pesticide use to protect biodiversity

While pesticides have their place, we must look at ways to use them correctly, judiciously and safely, emphasizing minimal application and, when possible, using natural alternatives to chemical products. There are many ways to reduce pesticide use, including through education and training for farmers and the people who support them such as agro-input dealers and extensionists. Pesticide reduction can be achieved through the use of biological control (also known as biocontrol) and the use of natural biopesticides as well as techniques such as Integrated Crop Management (ICM) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM). These are all areas in which CABI has expertise.

We can consider these practices as nature-based solutions. The United Nations describes nature-based solutions as actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously benefiting people and nature. CABI is a world leader in nature-based solutions that minimize environmental harm.

Supporting biodiversity through our programmes and projects

CABI’s global programme, PlantwisePlus, recognizes the urgent need to increase farmers’ uptake of lower-risk plant protection products. It has formulated a pesticide risk reduction pathway that focuses on raising awareness of, access to, and use of affordable IPM solutions. An essential part of the programme is the PlantwisePlus Toolkit, which encompasses many different tools that can help to reduce the use of pesticides and increase the use of biocontrol and biopesticides. The CABI BioProtection Portal is the largest free global resource providing users with registered biocontrol and biopesticide products in their country and information on how to use them.

The Ukulima True campaign aimed to increase awareness of farmers, value chain actors and the public on the importance of the correct use of pesticides (Credit: CABI),

In Kenya, Ukulima True is part of the PlantwisePlus programme and seeks to reduce pesticide risks to stakeholders in the food value chain. Reducing pesticide risks for these actors will improve food safety and protect farmers, community members, animals and environmental health. Post-campaign surveys found that 93% of trained farmers felt confident using pesticides correctly and safely because of the training they received.

Also in Kenya, papaya mealybug is a devastating pest that can cause 57-91% yield losses. Over half of the country’s farmers use pesticides to control the mealybug, which harms insect biodiversity and has other non-target effects. Biocontrol is an ecologically friendlier approach that introduces a natural enemy of the mealybug – a parasitic wasp, Acerophagus papaya – to control it. Through this initiative, the project is improving the capacity of farmers and extension services to adopt climate-smart conservation biocontrol practices that connect with biodiversity conservation efforts and ultimately enhance food security. In Asia, CABI’s projects in Pakistan are helping to mitigate pesticide concerns in the country’s red chili cropping system and reduce pesticide use in cotton production.

Everything in nature is connected

Everything in the natural world is connected, and synthetic pesticides upset that balance. Nature operates in an intricate web of connection, where every organism, including the crops we depend on for food, relies on and influences other organisms within the ecosystem. Pesticides can create a vicious circle, upsetting the natural balance and creating more pest-related problems. While synthetic pesticides might solve specific pest problems in the short term, they can negatively impact non-target species in the long term. It is time to address pests more holistically. Nature-based solutions do just this. They can create a virtuous circle, addressing target pests while having little or no impact on the environment. They safeguard the natural world upon which we rely.

We must adopt a more holistic approach to solving pest problems in the natural world. We should not address individual pests using specific pesticides without considering the broader environment in which the pest – and everything else around them – lives. It is time for an Integrated Landscape Management (ILM) approach. This approach refers to long-term collaboration among diverse stakeholders to foster natural resource resilience at the landscape level. Across a mosaic of human-nature interactions, it provides equitable and sustainable livelihoods, while at the same time aiming to enhance biodiversity conservation and improving ecosystem goods and services.

Taking the Integrated Landscape Management approach

Nature-based solutions like biocontrol and IPM can be important components for an ILM approach. An ILM approach encompasses informed and inclusive planning at a landscape level, integrating ecological, social and economic considerations. The principle of the ILM approach is the consolidation of the often contrasting and divergent needs and views between economic development, such as food production, and the conservation of biodiversity and nature. Through careful participatory planning and adaptive strategies involving all stakeholders, ILM ensures resilience to environmental challenges while fostering harmonious coexistence between nature and human activities.

Animals at a dried up river bed. Landscapes face barrage of threats: climate change, degradation, biodiversity loss (Credit: CABI).

In September 2023, CABI convened an ILM workshop in Nairobi, Kenya, bringing together a diverse set of stakeholders from countries including Ethiopia, Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania, and sectors such as agriculture, conservation, environment, forestry and livestock to start to put ILM into action. Participants responded positively, supporting a holistic and participatory approach with the long-term aim of creating and preserving healthy landscapes.

The ability to act in a connected way is critical. We face a trade-off between the diverging goals of conserving biodiversity and feeding a global population of 10 billion people by 2050. We can only feed a growing population by conserving biodiversity and associated ecosystem services. The goals may appear to be diverging but, in the end, our survival as humans on this planet depends on healthy and sustainably-utilized nature. An ILM approach can help us. It aims to find the trade-off and synergies between these two opposing goals. We are very much connected to and part of the ecosystems that support us. Protecting biodiversity by reducing chemical pesticides is a win-win for nature – and for us.

Additional information

Main image: “Across a mosaic of human-nature interactions, it (Integrated Land Management) provides equitable and sustainable livelihoods, while at the same time aiming to enhance biodiversity conservation and improving ecosystem goods and services” (Credit: CABI).

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