Many studies have shown that agricultural chemicals can be replaced by alternatives that are friendlier to biodiversity. Increased crop diversity reduces the need to defend crops against diseases and pests. Mulches and cover crops can replace herbicides for weed control. Some bacteria and fungi provide nutrients to crops, and promoting them can reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers. Likewise, synthetic pesticides can be effectively replaced with biocontrol (beneficial insects, fungi, and bacteria) and biopesticides (products derived from plants, fungi, and bacteria). These agents have relatively low toxicity and do not accumulate in the food web.
It has been argued that reducing chemical inputs would harm biodiversity. Without chemical inputs, farms may be less productive, and thus more native forests and grasslands would have to be converted to agriculture. Most evidence, however, points the other way. In the tropics, where biodiversity is the greatest, industrial agriculture has promoted export crops rather than food for local consumption. Over the last twenty years, cropland in Brazil has increased by 176 percent in order to plant export crops such as soybeans, wheat, coffee, and oranges, which are grown on large-scale, industrial farms. More important, converting to low-input agriculture does not necessarily reduce yields. Over the last fifteen years, both Indonesia and Vietnam have dramatically reduced pesticide applications—by as much as 72 percent—while rice yields have remained high or even increased. Since 1989, Cuba reduced its use of pesticides and fertiliz ers from 60 to 80 percent, but it produces more food now than it did in the 1980s.
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