64% of global agricultural land at risk of pesticide pollution

A global map of agricultural land across 168 countries has revealed that 64 per cent 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 examined risk to soil, the atmosphere, and surface and ground water.

The map revealed 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 per cent 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.

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

“Although the agricultural land in Oceania shows the lowest pesticide pollution risk, Australia’s Murray-Darling basin is considered a high-concern region both due to its water scarcity issues, and its high biodiversity,” said co-author Associate Professor Federico Maggi from the School of Civil Engineering and the Sydney Institute of Agriculture.

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

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.

The future outlook

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.”

Co-author Professor Alex McBratney, Director of the Sydney Institute of Agriculture at the University of Sydney, said: “This study shows it will be important to carefully monitor residues on an annual basis to detect trends in order to manage and mitigate risks from pesticide use.”

“We recommend a global strategy to transition towards a sustainable, global agricultural model that reduces food wastage while reducing the use of pesticides,” said the authors of the paper.

Journal Reference:

Fiona H. M. Tang, Manfred Lenzen, Alexander McBratney, Federico Maggi. Risk of pesticide pollution at the global scaleNature Geoscience, 2021; DOI: 10.1038/s41561-021-00712-5

Source:  ScienceDaily

An appetite for change is needed as global food production jeopardises climate targets

New research says chances of meeting the Paris Agreement’s global warming targets are being jeopardised by food production, which accounts for around 30 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

An international team of scientists modelled the impact of different changes to the food system and says that “unprecedented” initiatives, such as reducing food waste and shifting to plant-rich diets, are needed urgently to meet emission targets.

The study says that even if greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels used in the global food system were immediately halted, the remaining greenhouse gasses otherwise produced from global food production would make it difficult to meet the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting temperature  increases to 1.5° Celsius (C) above pre-industrial levels.

Much of the effort to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions has focused on reducing emissions from fossil fuel combustion in electricity production, transportation, and industry, but the study findings reveal the critical contribution from food production-related emissions.

Major sources of emissions in food production include land clearing and deforestation for agriculture and livestock production, production and use of fertilisers, and combustion of fossil fuels in food production and supply chains.

Food production worldwide released an average of 16 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents per year from 2012 to 2017.  But little is known about how the global food system’s considerable emissions impact the ability to meet the climate warming targets outlined by the Paris Accord.

To address this, Michael Clark and colleagues forecasted continued GHG emissions from the global food system and found that mitigating or reducing food system-related emissions is critical to meeting the 1.5° and 2 °C warming targets.

According to the results, business-as-usual food system emissions from 2020 to 2100 could equal as much as 1,356 gigatons – an amount that would exceed the 1.5°C limit between 2051 and 2063, and approximately equal the 2 ° C emissions limit by the end of the century.

Clark et al. outline several ways in which these emissions could be significantly reduced through changes in diets, agricultural efficiency and reductions in food waste, which, if fully realised, could result in a carbon neutral or even marginally carbon negative food system.

Link to research HERE.

Source:  Scimex