Agroecology 10 min

What new options are available to facilitate an end to pesticides?

Managing without pesticides is a pressing demand from a large part of society and an important goal for public policies. Farmers are fully aware of their inherent risks to health and the environment, but are finding it difficult to change their practices rapidly. In the context of the Ecophyto 2+ plan, INRAE has initiated two collective scientific assessments to produce an updated synthesis of the scientific data available. The first concerns pesticides and their impacts on biodiversity, working in collaboration with Ifremer, and the second focuses on using plant diversity to enable the agroecological management of crop pests and diseases.

Published on 30 November 2020

illustration What new options are available to facilitate an end to pesticides?
© INRAE, Brigitte Cauvin


Pesticide or plant protection product?  We are more familiar with the word ‘pesticide’ than with the term ‘plant protection product’ that is used in the regulations. They both designate the same chemical substances, used to control weeds and regulate the insect pests, fungi and pathogenic bacteria that damage crops. Their use is designed to prevent harvest losses and excessively poor quality crops and to maintain green spaces. The term ‘pesticide’ is of English origin and is a reminder of their ability to kill pests. The notion of ‘plant protection product’ refers to both their purpose – a treatment to care for plants – and the fact that use of these substances is strictly regulated in the contexts of both agriculture, green spaces and individual gardens.

Numerous studies have shown that the massive use of pesticides in order to secure agricultural production and maintain planted areas exerts effects not only on the pests they are targeting but also on other species, their transfer to other environments (air, water, soil), their breakdown into by-products or their persistence in these environments. In 2005, INRA and IRSTEA (today united within INRAE) published the result of a collective assessment that established an inventory of international scientific knowledge on Pesticides, agriculture and the environment. A similar exercise was carried out by INRA in 2008 regarding the links between Biodiversity and agriculture, which was a review of harmful agricultural practices and potential synergies.  This was followed in 2010 by an agroecological study on crop diversification (in French only). Commissioned by the Ministries for Agriculture and the Environment, these different scientific assessments both responded to demands to inform public policies and highlighted research needs which have subsequently been used to drive the Institute’s scientific orientations.

During the past ten years, the Institute has reinforced its efforts in agroecology and mobilised interdisciplinary research in order to identify new options for the integrated management of plant health and preservation of ecosystem services. These studies highlighted the importance of the diversity of crops and landscapes in order to encourage natural regulation that is beneficial to plant health(*). They focused on the numerous essential functions assured by biodiversity, such as a supply of nutrient elements to crops, soil carbon storage or pollination. Knowledge of these different issues has also progressed considerably at a global level and been the subject of numerous publications.

In practice, an end to pesticide use is a public policy goal which is still very difficult to attain, despite considerable efforts to achieve this.  It remains a priority objective; in France this takes the form of the Ecophyto 2+ plan while Europe is focused on its Green Deal. It is in this context that the French Ministries for Agriculture, the Environment and Research have now entrusted INRAE with carrying out two new scientific assessments:

  • The first, conducted jointly with Ifremer, concerns the impacts of plant protection products on terrestrial, aquatic and marine diversity in Europe and its associated ecosystem services;
  • And the second concerns the use of plant diversity to regulate pests and protect crops.  

(*) Alongside research work, another study evaluated the services rendered by agricultural ecosystems to enable improvements to their management

Nicole Ladettranslated by Vicky Hawken


Guy RichardDirector of Scientific Expertise, Foresight and Advanced Studies

Sophie Leenhardthead of the scientific assessment "Impacts of pesticides on biodiversity"

Vincent MartinetHead of the scientific assessment "plant covers, pests and crops"

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