By Sharon Atieno

Though integrated pest management (IPM) is essential in achieving food sustainability in Africa, the uptake is still low.

In a paper published in the journal Current Opinion in Insect Science, researchers note agricultural policy in Africa generally prioritises production and productivity above environmental sustainability, thus encouraging use of synthetic pesticides for controlling pests.

According to the researchers drawn form Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), Michigan State University, the University of South Africa, University of Nairobi and the African Union Commission (AUC), agricultural research is underfunded in most African countries, more so agroecological research which includes IPM.

Also, the paper notes that IPM is knowledge intensive thus requiring face-to-face extension methods especially for the more complex aspects, but they are expensive and extension systems in many countries are poorly funded.

Further, extensionists are often more concerned with staple crops, focus on productivity rather than ecological concepts and being male-dominated communicate less effectively with women, the researchers say.

Regulatory systems for chemical pesticides, seeds, biopesticides and biological controls can encourage or constrain the adoption of IPM by affecting input availability and cost, the researchers say, observing that market forces have driven down pesticide costs in recent decades due to increases in the availability of imported generic pesticides, often from China and India.

“Weak regulatory enforcement exacerbates the downward pressure on pesticide prices, by enabling unregistered products, counterfeits and other low-cost frauds to circulate easily,” the paper reads, noting that though lower-risk, IPM-compatible products are becoming more common, regulatory obstacles impede their development and registration.

To reverse this trend, the researchers note that policy that promotes the use of information and communications technologies (ICT) is beneficial to adoption of IPM but caution that it should avoid gender bias in the differential access to such technology.

Additionally, they recommend policies around credit, which ensures that input subsidies are managed carefully while insurance for inputs promote IPM rather than chemical pesticide use.

Food-safety regulations and market standards can also incentivise the use of IPM, particularly when there is effective compliance monitoring and capacity to meet the standards as with the case of exports where sanitary and phytosanitary measures are highly regarded.

Additionally, the paper notes that the way in which policy is developed can be improved by providing greater opportunity for stakeholders particularly farmers to participate in policy processes.

The authors conclude that: “Ultimately, the best chance for securing an enabling policy environment is for IPM to be seen not as a fire-brigade response to a problem, but as a key element of the food-system transformation that is increasingly being called for.”