Warning: The Risks of NOT Using Herbicides


John Nalewaja                                                                             Homer LeBaron

For most people, weeds are usually regarded as innocuous. Controlling weeds with herbicides is practiced on a large-scale every year, largely unnoticed and unappreciated by most people. Scientists who have spent their careers studying weeds (weed scientists) know the potential risks of NOT using herbicides. Two prominent weed scientists have written eloquently about weeds and the importance of herbicides.

“Weeds are the silent, malignant, massive natural force which invades agricultural fields and paddies, spreads to deplete the soil moisture, devours the plant nutrients, and deprives crops of sunlight with severe devastation to crop yields. Weeds endanger the quantity of our food, feed, and fiber and enslave millions of men, women, and children in emerging nations to a laborious life of weeding with primitive methods and tools—machete, sickle, and hoe—just to escape starvation from day to day.”
-Nalewaja, J.D. 1972 [1]

“I maintain that never in history have so few done so much for so many in providing food and improved standard of living as weed scientists.  We have enjoyed a phenomenal success in providing the only consistent, dependable, efficient and economical means of weed control the world has ever known, even leading to surplus production on fewer acres…. We must educate the public and policy makers on the risks of not using herbicides.”
-LeBaron, H.M. 1990 [2]

Authors: [1] Nalewaja, J. D. [2] LeBaron, H. M.
Affiliations: [1] North Dakota State University [2] Syngenta.
Titles: [1] Weeds: coexistence or control. [2] Weed science in the 1990s: will it be forward or in reverse?
Sources: [1] Journal of Environmental Quality. 1972. 1(4):344-349. [2] Weed Technology. 1990. 4:671-689.

Organic Cotton Profits on Women’s Back Breaking Work

Women Handweeding Cotton

Women Handweeding Cotton

Organic cotton is highly profitable. However, growing cotton without  herbicides for controlling weeds means that more labor is needed in back breaking hand weeding. A recent analysis of organic cotton production reports that the bulk of this labor falls on women’s backs.

“The aim of this article is to describe the economic performance and perceived social and environmental impacts of organic cotton in southern Kyrgyzstan… Due to lower input costs as well as organic and fair trade price premiums, the average gross margin from organic cotton was 27% higher… The major disadvantage of organic farming is the high manual labor input required. In the study area, where manual farm work is mainly women’s work and male labor migration is widespread, women are most affected by this negative aspect of organic farming.

The vast majority of female respondents from organic farms (farm managers or wives) perceived higher workloads. It was generally agreed that organic farming requires more manual work, is more labor intensive, and that women in particular must bear the negative effects because (a) manual work is typically done by women, and (b) the work-related outmigration of men has left more work to women in general. Indeed, the biggest negative impact perceived by respondents in regards to organic farming—an increased workload—appeared to affect women the most.”

Author: Bachmann, F.
Affiliation: Centre for Development and Environment CDE, University of Bern, Switzerland.
Title: Potential and limitations of organic and fair trade cotton for improving livelihoods of smallholders: evidence from Central Asia.
Source: Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. 2011. 27(2):138-147.