NEW COLONIALISM

Why Europe wants Africa to end crop protection

In Summary
  • In Africa, the difference these insecticides make to our yields runs from 10-20% to nearly 100% crop loss without them
  • But our food comes cheap when you have a foreign point to make

There is a state of mind where someone is so sure something is true they consider all information as proof, and ignore everything that suggests otherwise. It’s how the majority of the world’s population believed the Earth was flat long after measurements showed the curve on the planet’s surface and its changing position relative to the sun and stars.

For, when you want to believe the Earth is flat, facts are only an interference.

And so it is with the current fashion for declaring that spraying locusts or any insects that eat part or all our crops is necessarily bad, even when there is no evidence that’s the case.

Indeed, so extreme is the anti-pesticide noise that we are in danger of plundering our food output and increasing our dependency on Europe for generations ahead. Some have even called it the new colonialism, in a mounting battle of ideas around food that is dividing the world, with the United States, Australia – and now the UK and France too – going one way, and the rest of Europe heading in the opposite direction.

Moreover, Europe is determined to line up Africa in its camp, funding it to ban pest control as a ‘precaution’,

Take bees. Bees are pollinators, which means they fertilise many fruits and crops. But in Europe and Asia their numbers have fallen dramatically. The principal cause is a tiny mite that has invaded commercial hives carrying viruses that infect the bees and cause them to die.

Many commentators suggest other factors might be at play in suppressing the bees’ immunity to the viruses. Cambridge University, for instance, has reported that commercial bees, which are different from Europe’s wild bees, have been weakened by their lack of genetic diversity and in exploded numbers are competing for resources with wild bees, pushing them out of existence too.

However, Africa’s situation different. It has far fewer commercial bees, and those it has still intermix with its wild bees, which scientists say is the main reason their numbers are not collapsing.

But while this real, fact-based debate goes on, Europe’s green movement isn’t interested in mites, or viruses, or Cambridge University’s findings. The public understands (and sends donations on) simple messages, and what can get simpler than ‘pesticides are killing bees’. So they say it, a lot, blaming the world’s newest class of insecticides, called neonicotinoids.

But while this real, fact-based debate goes on, Europe’s green movement isn’t interested in mites, or viruses, or Cambridge University’s findings. The public understands (and sends donations on) simple messages, and what can get simpler than ‘pesticides are killing bees’. So they say it, a lot, blaming the world’s newest class of insecticides, called neonicotinoids.

There doesn’t happen to be any science to support that. Take one recent African study funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research on the effects of neonicotinoid insecticides in African agriculture. It promised a review of all the studies and science on the matter.

Yet, in the first paragraph of a 68-page report, it states: “Experience in Europe and America has demonstrated that some agrochemicals – in particular the systemic insecticides typified by neonicotinoids – have serious negative effects on ecosystem services such as pollination”.

It says this because some unidentified parties’ “experiences” is all it has, with not one reference to any scientific study showing that in the entire report. The US Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, renewed its approval of neonicotinoids in 2020, based on the science.

The African study, instead, concluded that to review all the literature would be too expensive and that it was better to stop the use of neonicotinoids anyway on a “precautionary” basis.

So, another report that mentions throughout that neonicotinoids damage bees without a single piece of evidence, but which proposes banning, just in case they do, which is exactly what Europe has done, whereas the US is confined to acting on scientific evidence.

In Africa, the difference these insecticides make to our yields run from 10 or 20 per cent to nearly 100 per cent crop loss without them. But our food comes cheap when you have a foreign point to make.

So it’s up to us whether we want scientific proof that bees are dying from neonicotinoids, of which there is none yet, or to ban them and drop a third of our food production just to show our solidarity with parts of Europe.

CEO, CropLife Kenya/ Agrochemicals Association of Kenya