Pesticide Action Week: Agroecology Protects Biodiversity

Along with other organizations, Slow Food is participating in the international Pesticide Action Week, organized by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN): Starting from today, local events, film screenings, conferences, seminars and markets will seek to inform consumers about the risks of pesticides to the environment and our health and to encourage the use of alternative methods.

The damage caused by pesticides has been proved scientifically: insecticides, herbicides and fungicides pollute the environment, compromise our health, destabilize the ecosystem and reduce biodiversity. Yet to guarantee high yields, a large part of the world continues to use them intensively. Alternatives, but it can’t be boiled down simply to agricultural practices. A radical change both in the system of food production and consumption is necessary.

The current food system has taken on industrial characteristics and its main goals are to increase the quantity of food produced, maximizing yields and increasing exports. This model is based on a growing use of petroleum derivates (used in pesticides, fertilizers and fuels) and the indiscriminate use of natural resources such as soil, water, forests and oceans, which are considered raw materials to be consumed.

Slow Food, along with many other organizations, promotes a different path, that puts the value of food and the dignity of the producers at the center. It is a synthesis which incorporates agroecology, and is able to merge social, environmental, cultural and economic aspects. There are many different factors which underpin this philosophy: the rediscovery of territory, the defense of soil fertility and biodiversity, the reduction of food waste, support for a healthier, more sustainable diet (e.g. by eating less meat), a narrative label (that tells us about techniques of cultivation and all the products used therein), the recovery of traditional knowledge, together with greater investment in public research that responds first and foremost to what people need. Within this framework, a drastic reduction in pesticides is more than realistic.

There are lots of examples that testify how farming without the use of synthetic chemicals and without compromising production is possible. In the small town of Thénac, around 100 kilometers from Bordeaux, France, François de Conti cultivates his vines without the use of chemical treatments.

“Today, a number of organic vineyards are producing crops of better quality and with higher yields compared to conventional ones,” he explains. “This is partly due to the fact that organic producers are able to recognize problems in the field before they become serious and start spreading. In my vineyard, I pay attention to the whole surrounding ecosystem: At times the plants that surround the vineyard could present a problem before the vines themselves are attacked. It takes careful observation and technical knowledge, but the advantage is that one can move beyond the use of pesticides and other chemical substances, and get to know and protect the entire ecosystem.”

Mimmo Coppola, who runs an organic farm near Trapani, in Sicily, Italy, is even more unequivocal: “An alternative and organic agriculture is not only possible, it’s necessary. I’m a technician first and foremost, and so I know very well how much damage all the chemical products used in conventional agriculture can cause.” His farm covers 100 hectares of land, with rotated crops that include ancient grains like Tumminia, Maiorca, Biancolilla and Einkorn as well as the local Pizzutello tomato variety, Cartucciaro melons (a Slow Food Presidium), San Pantaleo fava beans, Nubia garlic (also a Presidium) and Erice Valley lentils.

“I love everything that progress is destroying,” he continues. “I seek out heritage seeds from elderly producers, I reproduce them on my farm and I try to keep their cultivation alive using only ancient remedies, like macerated garlic or ground stone. Traditions and ancient knowledge can in fact save us from this modern mass poisoning. Of course, you need patience and it is hard work. If industrialized agriculture did not push towards overproduction, making the prices of products fall, we organic farmers could continue our work and show that it is possible to cultivate without pesticides, with respect for the environment and health.”

Piero Sardo, president of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, agrees: “The relationship between humans and nature is the big challenge that we must tackle in order to ensure the survival of our species. I believe that we can all agree on this. So then why is it so hard to accept the idea that cultivating crops, farming livestock and feeding ourselves must be in harmony with biodiversity, the health of the water and the land? Pesticides have nothing to do with this vision of the world. We need to find the times and the ways to ban them once and for all, without harming growers and citizens.”

Read Slow Food’s position paper on agroecology

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