Tetiana Kozhukhar

Chief analyst at AgriStatis Research

More than 2 million tons of crop protection products are used in the world every year
The problem of increasing agricultural productivity without chemical stress on the environment
A continuous population growth, under a constant amount of land suitable for agricultural cultivation, requires the introduction of more intensive cultivation technologies to maximize the biological potential of crop productivity, which is already high enough for modern varieties and hybrids. The level of scientific progress currently allows enhance plant productivity not only by increasing the chemical load on the environment, but in most cases, this issue is solved in this way. Modern pesticides are quite effective and, at the same time, persistent substances that tend to accumulate in the environment, polluting it, while the rate of chemicalization and the time required for the decomposition of these substances leaves no chance for nature to self-heal. For instance, organochlorine pesticides are toxic and persistent compounds that remain in the topsoil layer for a long time (half-live period can be up to 30 years) and able to overcome long food chains. For example, traces of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloromethylmethane), which has been widely used since 1940, have been found in penguin liver in Antarctica already in 1964 and are currently restricted for use or banned, but over the past 30 years the volume of this substance in birds have not reduced since these substances are constantly released from melting glaciers.

* Source: Heidi Heitz, a biologist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), USA.
The need to refuse from CPP use
Modern agriculture is impossible without a complete refusal from the use of crop protection products (CPPs) – chemicals used to control diseases, pests, and weeds. According to the FAO, global CPP use has almost doubled since 1990, reaching 2.1 million tons in 2010, with further stabilization and slight fluctuations in subsequent years.
The use of crop protection products in the world (herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides)
Changes in the use of CPP compared to the last year
Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
More than half of all CPP used is in Asia (52%), a one third in the United States (32%), and 12% in Europe (11.6%), the rest – Africa (2%) and Oceania (2%).

The use of crop protection products in the world by type
Changes in the use of herbicides, until last year
Changes in the use of fungicides, until last year
Changes in the use of insecticides, until last year
Source: FAO

57% of the total volume of all CPP can be attributed to herbicides (100% is the sum of herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides). According to the FAO, 1.2 million tons of herbicides were used in 2018, which is twice as much as in 1990. Almost two-thirds of all herbicides are used in the United States (68%), 15% in Europe, 11% in Asia, 4% in Oceania and 2% in Africa.

In 2018, 530 thousand tons of fungicides were used, which is 25% of the total volume of all CPP (main types). This segment is growing (+ 35% compared to 1990), but not as intensively as the segment of herbicides. Leaders in the use of fungicides are Europe (37%) and the United States (35%), while 22% of fungicides were used in the Asia, Africa – 5%, Oceania – 1%.

The level of insecticide use in the world is stable, and the volumes almost did not change and comprise around 400 thousand tons. The share of insecticides in the global use of CPP is 18% (in 2018). Within the segment of insecticides: 45% were used in the United States, 29% in Asia, 16% in Europe, 6% in Africa and 4% in Oceania. However, as a result of a stable volume of used insecticides, there is a change in the product quality, since the agronomists choose other active substances.

Change of CPP toxicity in the world means reduction of the negative impact on vertebrates, but increased toxicity for invertebrates and pollinating insects.

Back in 1998, 95 countries participated in an international agreement restricting trade of organochlorine pesticides (DDT), organophosphates and other most dangerous substances.

Source: The Law of Ukraine, document 995_a35: "Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade"

The data of multi-year study have showed that over the past 25 years, the toxicity of CPP to vertebrates (fish, mammals, and birds) has decreased due to replacing organophosphorus and carbamate insecticides with pyrethroids and neonicotinoids, however, these products are more harmful to invertebrates, both aquatic and terrestrial, as well as pollinating insects. Scientists are concerned that pyrethroids and neonicotinoids get accumulated in the environment and may be one of the main causes of arthropod biodiversity loss, as well as a decrease in numbers of pollinating insects, leading to significant reductions in pollinated areas and yield loss.

Source: Ralph Schultz, University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany. Ralf Schulz et al. / Science, 2021

According to the FAO, the use of carbamates (urethanes), organophosphates and organochlorine pesticides (DDT banned in most countries) has indeed decreased. However, there is no increase in the use of pyrethroids (it is possible that not all data in terms of active ingredients is available), and it is impossible to estimate the volumes of used neonicotinoids, as they are not allocated to a separate group. According to data from open sources, the use of organophosphates and carbamates has decreased by one third in the last 10 years, while the use of pyrethroids and neonicotinoids has increased by around 10% and 20%, respectively. It should be noted that the group of organophosphates is much larger in terms of use, while carbamates, pyrethroids and neonicotinoids can be compared by volume.

The use of insecticides by groups
Source: FAO

Attention is also drawn to the fact that one group of pesticides includes products with different active substances that have different impact on the environment.
Neonicotinoids and Pyrethroids
Brazil, China, the United States and India account for more than a half (60%) of the world's pyrethroid and neonicotinoid consumption. Products based on these active substances are used, mainly on soy, cereals, maize, rice and cotton.

Ukraine's share in the use of world volumes of such products is insignificant and comprised 1% and 2%, respectively. However, such relatively small percent are misleading, as almost 16 million hectares are cultivated in Ukraine annually, which is about 60% of the total sown area; and in almost half of the cases more than one application will be done, so the total treated area for these products may exceed 20 million hectares. Neonicotinoids and pyrethroids are used mainly on cereals, as well as OSR, maize, sunflower and soy. These are the main crops for our country, which have a strategic and export importance and cultivated on the area of > 80% (all categories of farms). That is why Ukrainian beekeepers have been complaining to agronomists about the mass mortality of bees caused by using CPP for more than a year now. This is no accident, because every second hectare is treated with such products, and that is why their increased use in the future is so dangerous..

Therefore, it is time to think and make the pesticide load controlled with maximum involvement of biological crop protection products and control methods, adjust crop rotations, use more organic fertilizers, control soil erosion and use tillage measures directed on soil protection and moisture preservation, and worry about increase of soil fertility. The use of pesticides should be limited as much as possible, environmentally friendly and economically sound, while the compounds contained in the products should be thoroughly checked, tested in multi-year studies and have minimal negative impact on the environment.