Modern Agriculture

During the last 50-60 years, worldwide agricultural practices have been characterized by high inputs, high yields, unsustainable practices, and ecosystem damage. This production method, often termed 'substitution agriculture', relies on inputs of fertilizers and agrochemicals to maintain and enhance soil fertility and manage weeds, pests, and diseases. These chemicals damage the environment, reduce biodiversity and ecosystem function, and are increasingly becoming ineffective due to pest resistance. Subsequently this form of agriculture has become dependent on these chemical inputs to maintain production. Public concerns about the unsustainability of these practices are being raised, along with concerns of the impacts of these practices on environmental and human health. Ecosystem services (ES) to humanity have been valued in excess of US$ 33 x 10 pa worldwide. They include food production and quality, climate, soil and hydrological regulation, nutrient cycling, maintenance of genetic diversity/resources, and recreation. Recognition of the value of these services and a change in agricultural practices to restore ecosystem function are necessary to create sustainable growth, especially as the world population is expected to increase 50% in the next 50 years to 9 billion. In response to these social, economic, and marketing pressures, agriculture is being forced to discontinue the use of some agrochemicals (e.g., organochlorine insecticides) or they are to be phased out over time (e.g., methyl bromide). This has raised attention in the research community to find sustainable alternatives to 'substitution agriculture'. One area of focus has been biological control, especially conservation biological control and biopesticides. The early stages of these disciplines were rudimentary but current research is now showing great potential to play an important part in sustainable pest management in sustainable agriculture. However, there are several restrictions that impede a faster expansion of the discipline and its transfer to the agricultural community. These include the availability of selective biodegradable chemical pesticides, the lack of a strong information-transfer infrastructure, highly regulated restrictions on the introduction and deployment of exotic agents, and poor grower perception and knowledge of biological control and how to use and enhance it. Also, there are not enough market-based incentives (or instruments) to deploy biological control technologies. This is in spite of the fact that ample evidence exists that the (ecosystem) service-providing unit (SPH) is well established and that the economic value of such provision/avoided costs, maintenance of, and increases in markets has been well demonstrated.

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