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Article

Pierluigi Cocco

The fight against agricultural and household pests accompanies the history of humanity, and a total ban on the use of pesticides seems unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. Currently, about 100,000 different chemicals, inorganic and organic, are currently in the market, grouped according to their function as insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, fumigants, rodenticides, fertilizers, growth regulators, etc. against specific pests, such as snails or human parasites, or their chemical structure—organochlorines, organophosphates, pyrethroids, carbamates, dithiocarbamates, organotin compounds, phthalimides, phenoxy acids, heterocyclic azole compounds, coumarins, etc. Runoff from agricultural land and rain precipitation and dry deposition from the atmosphere can extend exposure to the general environment through the transport of pesticides to streams and ground-water. Also, the prolonged bio-persistence of organochlorines generates their accumulation in the food chain, and their atmospheric drift toward remote geographical areas is mentioned as the cause of elevated fat contents in Arctic mammals. Current regulation in the developed world and the phasing out of more toxic pesticides have greatly reduced the frequency of acute intoxications, although less stringent regulations in the developing world contribute to a complex pattern of exposure circumstances worldwide. Nonetheless, evidence is growing about long-term health effects following high-level, long-lasting exposure to specific pesticides, including asthma and other allergic diseases, immunotoxicity, endocrine disruption, cancer, and central and peripheral nervous system effects. Major reasons for uncertainty in interpreting epidemiological findings of pesticide effects include the complex pattern of overlapping exposure due to multiple treatments applied to different crops and their frequent changes over time to overcome pest resistance. Further research will have to address specific agrochemicals with well-characterized exposure patterns.

Article

Assessing the environmental footprints of modern agriculture requires a balanced approach that sets the obviously negative effects (e.g., incidents with excessive use of inputs) against benefits stemming from increased resource use efficiencies. In the case of rice production, the regular flooding of fields comprises a distinctive feature, as compared to other crops, which directly or indirectly affects diverse impacts on the environment. In the regional context of Southeast Asia, rice production is characterized by dynamic changes in terms of crop management practices, so that environmental footprints can only be assessed from time-dependent developments rather than from a static view. The key for the Green Revolution in rice was the introduction of high-yielding varieties in combination with a sufficient water and nutrient supply as well as pest management. More recently, mechanization has evolved as a major trend in modern rice production. Mechanization has diverse environmental impacts and may also be instrumental in tackling the most drastic pollution source from rice production, namely, open field burning of straw. As modernization of rice production is imperative for future food supplies, there is scope for developing sustainable and high-yielding rice production systems by capitalizing on the positive aspects of modernization from a local to a global scale.

Article

The pollination of crops by domesticated bees and wild pollinators is easily and often imagined as an accidental but essential process in agriculture. The notion that pollinators are overlooked despite their essential role in food production is widespread among the general public, as well as in policy debates concerning all issues related to pollinators, ranging from regulation of pesticides to conservation of habitat for wild bees, to support of beekeeping as an industry or as a hobby. Meade was the first to formalize this notion by making pollination a canonical example of beneficial externality in economics and arguing that subsidies should be established to ensure that honeybees are provided in optimal numbers to pollinate crops. In the first two decades of the 21st century, the same argument, but this time focusing on wild pollinators, has been proposed and supported by a large and growing literature in conservation ecology. However, a thorough review of contributions on the economics of pollination reveals several misconceptions behind the appealing fable of pollination externalities. The most striking rebuttal of Meade’s argument comes from the study of pollination markets, where beekeepers and crop growers engage in voluntary transactions called pollination contracts. A small economics literature formalizes the issue of incentives solved by these transactions and provides a detailed empirical analysis of many complex aspects, such as the establishment of standards for the monitoring of bee densities or the impact of seasonality of blooms and bee population dynamics on pollination prices. Outside pollination markets, economists have made rather sparse and partial contributions to several other important issues related to pollination in agriculture, such as valuation of pollination services, conservation of wild pollinators, and regulation of pesticides that impact pollinators. On these topics, studies have largely been published in non-economics journals and economists stand to make valuable contributions by applying and popularizing the concepts of incentive design, information costs, and other key insights of environmental economics in the study of pollination.