Fighting plant pests

Sunday February 11 2018

By Michael J. Ssali

Pests are described as insects, bacteria, viruses, birds, and rodents that destroy crops by eating them or by infecting them with diseases.
They are often a nuisance which results in huge losses for the farmer. They can damage the crop when it is growing in the field or after harvest during storage.
The common methods of fighting pests may be categorised as chemical and preventive.
The chemical method is so far regarded by most farmers as the quicker and more effective way of controlling pests. A specific chemical that kills particular pests is used in the correct dosage to dust, fumigate, or spray the crop. Chemicals manufactured to kill pests are referred to as pesticides and they are sold in registered farmers’ shops. Pesticides are poisonous and therefore they can be dangerous to their handlers and to the consumers of the crops that they are meant to protect.
Pesticides can also kill innocent insects, and animals that live naturally in the environment where the chemicals are used.
Therefore farmers must handle pesticides with extreme care and to apply them strictly according to the manufacturers’ instructions. Pesticides are also expensive and reduce the farmer’s profits. Some pests, particularly viruses, cannot be killed by pesticides and plant pathologists and breeders have resorted to genetic engineering or genetic modification (GM) to develop crops resistant to the pests and diseases caused by the viruses. Genetic engineering is almost like vaccination in humans and animals. When genetically engineered crops are grown there is no need for the farmer to use pesticides which destroy biodiversity and increase production costs.
For example, following the successful development of genetically modified Irish potato, farmers will not have to spend money on pesticides to fight Potato Blight when GM crops are permitted to be grown in Uganda. Consumers will eat potatoes that are not polluted by pesticides.
Some preventive methods include weed control to reduce multiplication of pests, use of disease free seeds and planting materials as well as observing good field hygiene.
Integrated pest control involves the use of both pesticides and preventive methods.
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