As we have begun to recognize the need to limit the use of broad spectrum chemical pesticides and to develop more selective pest controls, the opportunity has returned for the use of native natural enemies which previously had been suppressed by excessive pesticide use. Advances in understanding the biology, ecology and handling of insect pathogens have provided new opportunities for biological control, and have led to the development of target-specific biological pesticides.

Biological agents were a recognized part of pest control before chemical pesticides became widely available. As chemical pest control became easier and simpler, biological control was abandoned. It was not long before pesticide resistance began to be reported along with other adverse enviromental consequences of widespread use of persistent chemicals. The pesticide industry reacted by promoting less persistent, but no less toxic compounds, and the process still relied heavily on fossil fuels for the raw materials and the power source for their production. Such over reliance on expensive energy intensive inputs to agriculture is not sustainable.

The concept of integrated pest management (IPM) emerged as a method to reduce the costs and problems caused by overuse of chemical pesticides. IPM represents a return to the philosophy of the earlier period when a variety of control measures were used. Initially the emphasis of IPM was on the use of resistant crop varieties and the rational use of chemicals, but biological control techniques are increasingly considered essential components of IPM programs. The Bio-Integral Resource Center in California, and ICIPE in Kenya are examples of organizations which have had a considerable impact on the development and implementation of biological pest control management. Both of these institutions have drawn heavily on Chinese discoveries and techniques to harness insects for their beneficial role in agriculture.

Many farmers are now spending less on pest control while often achieving greater and more consistent yields. Such experiences with bio-control methods have led some countries, such as the Philippines and Indonesia, to severely restrict the use of pesticides and to promote greater use of biological controls.

Biological control is now supported worldwide as a means of safeguarding crops from pest attack without harming other organisms. For farmers it represents an important option for reducing production costs.

  • Governments welcome opportunities to avoid spending scarce foreign earnings on imported pesticides, and to reduce environmental pollution and health risks.
  • The increasingly sophisticated urban populations are looking to avoid pesticide residues in food, and to live in a cleaner and safer environment.
  • Farmers want to maintain the productivity of their crops and soils while saving the resources previously squandered on chemical inputs.
  • In this issue we attempt to highlight some of the results being achieved by various agencies and researchers using bio-control methods. Their work often shows that there is a reliable and sustainable alternative to dependence on energy intensive, costly and environmentally damaging chemicals. A networking section provides a sampling of research organizations and information resources, all concerned with the use of safe and effective bio-control methods. Edith Bross