It is no secret that pollinators play a crucial role in sustainable agriculture, and no one should be more aware of this than farmers, however, there are incidents where pollinators are adversely affected by the improper use of pesticides. Why is this still the case?
In South Africa, pesticides can only be registered after a rigorous review of the product’s toxicology, which includes the review and approval of comprehensive efficacy, residue, stability and plant compatibility studies that need to be submitted. Furthermore, the label directed use of the product should not pose an unacceptable risk to human and environmental health, which includes pollinator safety.
It is important to note that even though a pesticide may be toxic to bees when ingested, it does not mean that it cannot be applied safely.
This is the difference between hazard and risk. Take bleach as an example. The bleach itself, whether standing on a kitchen counter or locked away in an impenetrable vault, is a hazard because it can be toxic to humans, however, it only becomes a risk if you decide to drink it.
It is the same scenario with pesticides and pollinators, which is why field trials are so important to determine whether bees could be exposed or affected. Most pesticides pose very little risk to bees once the spray is dried off on the plant surface.
If the regulatory environment ensures all these checks and balances are in place to protect our pollinators, then we need to ensure that the pesticides are applied accordingly. This means that the crop adviser and the farmer must ensure the products are only used according to label instructions.
Any other application is not only illegal, but could have dire consequences for pollinators. A poster summarising the points that must be kept in mind when developing a spray programme by both crop advisers or sales agents and farmers is available here.
A key point to ensure pollinator safety is effective and timeous communication between both farmers and beekeepers. Not only must the farmer inform beekeepers in the area of their intended spray programmes, but beekeepers must also inform the farmer about their intended activities.
Just as we need to protect our crops from devastating pests, we must nurture and protect our pollinators, therefore each role-player must be extra vigilant and take extreme precautions with regards to crop protection product application.