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The high cost of pesticide subsidies.

The high cost of pesticide substidies

Developing countries and aid agencies frequently promote widespread pesticide use--and abuses--through major chemical subsides to their farmers, according to a new study by Robert Repetto, senior economist with the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C. Ironically, his study found, governments and international development agencies are generally unaware of these subsidies' full cost to the affected nations' ecomonies. But potentially more important, Repetto says, is that by discounting the cost of pesticides, governments and aid agencies provide such a strong incentive for greater pesticide use that farmers can lose sight of related environmental costs or declining gains in farms yields -- factors that might otherwise serve to limit abuse of these toxic chemicals.

One of the major contributions of this study was its extrapolation of the subsidies' previously unevaluated economic costs from data provided by the governments of nine countries representing a range of agricultural policies: China, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, Honduras, Indonesia, Pakistan and Senegal. Their subisdies discounted the cost of pesticides by 15 to 90 percent. However, Repetto found, none of the countries he surveyed had collected the data--for instance, on pesticide demand or the elasticity of pesticide prices when demand changes -- that would allow analysis of the impacts of these subsidies on a domestic economy. As a result, Repetto says, though hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually subisdizing the sale of dangerous pesticides to farmers, "the agencies responsible have no way of knowing whether those subsidies are accomplishing their purpose."

Subsidies "can influence farmers to use more chemicals, even when the crop savings are quitely unlikely to justify the very real additional costs," Repetto found. Moreover, the study says, severely discounting pesticides can encourage farmers to choose chemicals over more labor-intensive but environmentally safer control strategies, like integrated pest management, which can include careful timing of plantings, hand removal of some pest eggs, burning of contaminated crops and release of predator insects and microbes to attack pests.

Repetto's data also show that the per capita value of these subsidies is not trivial. Although the median was $1.70, Egypt's was $4.70. For perspective, the per capita Indonesian subsidy for pesticides, at about 80$, is half the government per capita expenditure on housing and water, and roughly a third of the government expenditure for health.
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Title Annotation:in developing countries
Publication:Science News
Date:Jan 11, 1986
Words:385
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