Food News

Third of the world’s farmland at ‘high-risk’ from pesticide pollution

A global map of agricultural land across 168 countries shows that 64% of land used for agriculture and food crops is at risk of pesticide pollution. Almost a third of these areas are considered to be at high-risk.

The study, published in Nature Geoscience, produced a global model mapping pollution risk caused by 92 chemicals commonly used in agricultural pesticides in 168 countries. 

The study examined risk to soil, the atmosphere, and surface and ground water.

The map shows that Asia has the largest land areas at high risk of pollution, with China, Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines at highest risk. Some of these areas are considered “food bowl” nations, feeding a large portion of the world’s population.

University of Sydney research associate and the study’s lead author, Dr Fiona Tang, said the widespread use of pesticides in agriculture – while boosting productivity – could have potential implications for the environment, human and animal health.   

“Our study has revealed 64%of the world’s arable land is at risk of pesticide pollution. This is important because the wider scientific literature has found that pesticide pollution can have adverse impacts on human health and the environment,” said Dr Tang. 

“Although protecting food production is essential for human development, reducing pesticide pollution is equivalently crucial to protect the biodiversity that maintains soil health and functions, contributing towards food security”

Pesticides can be transported to surface waters and groundwater through runoff and infiltration, polluting water bodies, thereby reducing the usability of water resources.

“Globally, our work shows that 34% of the high-risk areas are in high-biodiversity regions, 19% in low-and lower-middle-income nations and five percent in water-scarce areas,” said Dr Tang. 

The researchers say there is concern that overuse of pesticides will tip the balance, destabilise ecosystems and degrade the quality of water sources that humans and animals rely on to survive.

Global pesticide use is expected to increase as the global population heads towards an expected 8.5 billion by 2030.

“In a warmer climate, as the global population grows, the use of pesticides is expected to increase to combat the possible rise in pest invasions and to feed more people,” said associate professor Maggi. 

Dr Tang said: “Although protecting food production is essential for human development, reducing pesticide pollution is equivalently crucial to protect the biodiversity that maintains soil health and functions, contributing towards food security.”Although protecting food production is essential for human development, reducing pesticide pollution is equivalently crucial to protect the biodiversity that maintains soil health and functions, contributing towards food security.”

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