East Africa’s locust plague shows we need an honest conversation about pesticides

A devastating locust plague has hit East Africa, with swarms of insects covering an area the size of Moscow. In desperation towards this pest, farmers and police in countries like Kenya and Ethiopia are using every tool available, ranging from pesticides to flamethrowers and even machine guns. Their desperation is real and justified: with large amounts of crops eaten by the hungry insect, the entire region could see a life-threatening food security disaster.

The invention of pesticides has solved this problem in practically every other region of the world, and officials should be keen to look to technology, not flamethrowers to deal with this.

These types of pests have previously hit other areas of the world.

In 2015, such a scourge reached Russia, causing the destruction of 10% of its crops after a monstrous attack by thousands of locusts. Standing by their fields, farmers were ruined and desperate. Their losses were enormous. Later, consumers faced rising prices, hitting low-income households the hardest.

Through pesticides, however, modern chemistry has given us the tools to defend ourselves against plagues on our fields and in our cities. Instead of losing a large part of our yields of crops, these products have guaranteed us greater food security. That should be championed.

But in today’s mantra, pesticides are considered undesirable. It goes without saying that a pesticide requires professional and precise use, and certainly not all farmers have been equally rigorous. The general demonisation of all pesticide use has thus failed to deliver an intelligent or even environmentally friendly policy.

Abandoning the use of pesticides completely has ruinous effects.

Over in the Netherlands, the Pest Advice and Knowledge Centre warns in major newspapers that new rat infestations are imminent as the country prepares to restrict the use of rat poison from 2023 onwards. It has already been banned in outdoor areas, but now indoor use will also be banned, as RTL Nieuws reports.

The rat invasion in Paris tells a similar story. In January 2018, the government launched a 1.7 million euro anti-rat campaign to reduce the number of disease-ridden rodents. A total of 4,950 anti-rat operations took place between January 2018 and July 2018 compared to 1,700 the previous year. Not only have these efforts failed, they have also fallen short of appeasing those who desire no human effect on the environment around us. An online petition denouncing the “rat genocide” and calling for an end to the exterminations was widely circulated. It collected 26,000 signatures.

But we cannot allow a rat infestation. If we strive for healthy cities, we cannot have our homes and streets “shared” with rats. Otherwise the consequences of our inaction will lead to considerable health problems. The same applies to other species.

A study by researchers in Biology Letters, including French researcher Céline Bellard PhD, showed in 2016 that alien or invasive species are the “second most common threat” associated with the extinction of animals and wildlife since AD 1500. And for at least three of the five different animal species examined, these invasive species are the number one killer.

This is a significant problem in the European Union. The EU suffers €12 billion worth of damage each year due to the effects of these plagues on human health, damaged infrastructure and agricultural losses.

According to a report from 2015, 354 species are at significant risk, including 229 animals, 124 plants and 1 fungus. Invasive species include Spanish slugs, the bacterium xylella fastidiosa, and the Asian long-horned beetle. The traditional reader will have no direct concept of what they look like, and since there are no domestic equivalents, there will probably be no petition by activists either.

Farmers in Africa should not be scared into giving up all pesticides, as controlled use is essential for a productive agricultural system and a viable ecosystem.

Education is therefore key. Prudence about pesticides cannot and must never become an ideological obsession. Controlled, scientifically based use of pesticides remains an absolute necessity for our farmers and cities. If we fail to understand this crucial fact, we will become our own pest.


This article was published EUReporter.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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