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Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo clean caterpillars harvested from the trees surrounding their village.

From: Insects – Footsteps 115

Why insects are important and how we can look after and benefit from them

Insects are very important to agriculture. They pollinate crops, recycle nutrients, control other insects and improve soil fertility. However, when insects start to damage crops, they need to be managed.

‘Natural pest management’ is a method of controlling insect pests without using chemicals. Instead, other insects, birds, animals, plants or mechanical techniques are used.

What is a pest?

An agricultural pest is an insect or animal that causes damage to a plant or crop. It is possible for an insect to be a pest in one situation and beneficial in another.

Common insect pests include:

Learning about pests

Before deciding which pest-control method to use, it is important to learn about the pest. It would be a mistake to waste time and money controlling an insect when it is not causing any damage.

1. Identify the pest. For example, if there are holes in the leaves, go to the plant at different times of the day and night to see if you can find the pest in action.

2. Learn about the pest. Learn about its life cycle, food and natural enemies. Often there is a stage of the life cycle when it is easier to control insect pests, such as getting rid of the eggs before they hatch. A pest can be controlled by removing its food source or introducing natural enemies (predators). Talk to local farmers and agricultural advisors to find out more, or search for information about the insect online.

3. Monitor the behaviour of the pest. Does the pest appear on a seasonal basis? Can it be found all over the plant or crop, or only in certain places? Is the pest increasing or decreasing in number?

4. Decide when to take action. Biodiversity is important and we should try not to disturb the natural balance of ecological systems unless it is absolutely necessary. It is only worth investing money in pest control if the cost of damage caused by the pest is greater than the cost of controlling it.

5. Evaluate the effect. After a natural pest‑control method is used, evaluate its effect. Will you use this method again, or should another be tried? Did the method affect other insects? Was that a good or a bad thing?

Natural pest controls

Once you have discovered all you can about the insects that are affecting your crops, you can decide on the best method or methods to control them.



Mechanical control

Natural pesticides

Pesticides can be made using natural ingredients. For example, caterpillars, aphids and ants can be controlled using a red chilli pepper spray.

To make the spray:

Chemical pesticides

Chemical pesticides have many disadvantages. Although they remove the pest, they also kill many of the insects that are useful to the crop. If not used carefully, pesticides can pollute soil and water supplies and make people unwell.

The benefits of chemical pesticides decrease over time as pests become resistant to them. This means that the pesticide kills the weaker pests, leaving the strongest to breed a new generation that is not affected by the pesticide.

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