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Pests and climate change: using nature-based solutions to avoid risks

Published 11/02/2022

Theme: Agriculture and bioprotection

Pest solutions and climate change are hot topics that are closely interlinked. Climate change is creating extreme weather and shifts in seasons. It’s degrading the quality of the land and soil. This can make crops weaker but make pests stronger.

Climate change speeds up the way that plant pests move around the planet. A warm environment helps them to spread further. Increased humidity allows these pests to thrive in new locations. 

With a 2°C temperature increase, the number of insect pests may rise. Insects might have one to five additional life cycles per season.  

The impact on agriculture 

In agriculture, we are now seeing alarming types of pest hazards. Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) infestations that spread across entire continents. Locust swarms that are the size of Luxembourg. Pests like tomato leafminer (Tuta absoluta or Phthorimaea absoluta) that can destroy up to 90% or more of tomato crops

These increased pest hazards pose a huge threat to people working in agriculture and threaten farmer incomes and global food security

Chemical pest solutions and climate change 

To fight the pests, farmers, gardeners and growers often use synthetic pesticides. However, they are often bad for the environment and can kill beneficial insects, particularly bees. It also damages fragile ecosystems including soils and rivers. This can weaken plants’ natural resilience to climate change. 

Chemical pesticides also account for around 1-4% of greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions make climate change worse. They come from the production and transportation of chemical pesticides. Both of these use fossil fuels intensively. 

Furthermore, increased temperatures pose challenges to chemical products. It makes some pesticides less effective, such as Pyrethroids, which are chemicals that kill insects, including mosquitoes. 

Nature-based solutions and climate smart agriculture for pest control 

Many growers are now considering alternatives. These include natural pest solutions and climate smart agriculture. They want to stop plant pests as well as protect the environment. They see the benefit of choosing more eco-friendly solutions. 

Two specific approaches can improve agricultural systems. The first is Nature-Based Solutions. The second is Climate Smart Agriculture. 

These solutions enhance natural processes and ecosystem services. These services are the benefits to humans and wildlife provided by a healthy natural environment. 

Nature-based solutions are good for agriculture and the environment. They combat the effects of climate change and involve working with nature to address challenges in society. Furthermore, they benefit human well-being and biodiversity. They protect, restore or manage natural ecosystems. 

Climate smart agriculture techniques support farmers to: 

  • make agricultural systems more sustainable 
  • reduce the impacts of climate change 
  • reduce the emissions that cause climate change 
  • prevent biodiversity loss and improve soil health 
Image credit: Oxford University

Climate smart agriculture combines a range of practices and technologies. It increases agricultural productivity sustainably. Also, it enhances our ability to adapt to climate change. It also reduces or removes greenhouse gases where possible. 

Biocontrol products are an important part of climate smart agriculture. As is integrated pest management (IPM). Investors and global food companies are looking to biocontrol products. They see these technologies as nature-positive solutions and an investment opportunity

Image credit: FAO

The role of biocontrol products for safer, climate-friendly farming 

Nature-based pest solutions and climate-friendly farming have fewer ‘trade-offs’ compared to alternative approaches. These solutions include using biocontrol products. You can find many of these products on the CABI BioProtection Portal. 

To become more resilient to the hazards of climate change, farmers can harness a number of approaches: 

Biocontrol products 

Biocontrol products and techniques are critical tools for climate adaptation. They avoid emissions from the production of chemical pesticides. They help to boost yields. And they maintain the natural biodiversity found on farms. 

Conservation farming 

Conservation farming is an important part of climate smart agriculture. It includes a number of activities: 

  • Protecting soil from erosion 
  • Preventing water pollution 
  • Creating and maintaining natural barriers such as foliage, rocks and trees 

Integrating species 

Farmers must prioritize nature in agricultural systems. In this way, they can protect the natural resources they depend on. For example, they can use natural enemies of pests. These enemies help to reduce pest populations and protect crops. 

Certain species work in a system to balance each other out. Farmers can support these species interactions to adapt to climate change. This includes supporting organisms such as beneficial insects – the natural enemies of pests. This technique helps to control invasive crop pests. It helps farming systems to adapt. 

See our blog on biocontrol for more information.  

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