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European Research Alliance works for agriculture of the future without chemical pesticides

Twenty-four European research organisations from 16 European countries have joined forces in a new research alliance to forge the foundation for reducing dependence on chemical pesticides in EU agriculture. The initiative is called 'Towards a Chemical Pesticide-free Agriculture', and the collaboration will rethink the way in which research is carried out within agroecology and plant protection.

On Sunday 23 February, in the presence of the French European affairs minister, Dean Eskild Holm Nielsen signed on behalf of Aarhus University a joint declaration together with 23 other research institutions from 16 European countries. Through the alliance, they have committed themselves to rethinking research into plant protection with a view to reducing dependence on pesticides in the EU.

"There is no doubt that this vision will take many years to realise, but by signing the declaration, the research alliance has stressed that the vision should set the agenda for future research and innovation initiatives both in the EU and nationally," says Eskild Holm Nielsen, dean of Technical Sciences.

AU involved from the outset

The initiative started eighteen months ago, when the research institutions INRAE in France and ZALF and JKI in Germany convened a meeting in Paris to examine potentials for support from other European research institutions. Since then, the alliance has met several times. Aarhus University – in the shape of Department of Agroecology – has been involved from the outset, and is an important partner in the alliance because of our competences and leading role in several major EU projects in the plant protection field.

The initiative has arisen as a result of problems implementing integrated pest management methods (IPM) in the EU. Even though farmers in the EU have had to comply with the principles of IPM since 2014, there has been an increase in pesticide consumption in most EU countries in recent years, and this has also been pointed out by among others the European Commission in several reports.

"There are many reasons for the significant increase in pesticide consumption in the EU. From the lack of effective alternative solutions to chemical pesticides, to a lack of knowledge and awareness of alternative plant protection methods for farmers and advisers. Moreover, it is hard to define what integrated plant protection is, and thus to establish clear signposts," explains Per Kudsk, a professor of plant protection at the Department of Agroecology who has participated in the Humanities in the European Research Area collaboration for many years.

Need for a new research agenda for plant protection

The increasing focus on the negative impacts of pesticide use from both authorities and the public sector has meant stricter EU legislation, and this is expected to result in a drop in the number of approved pesticides in coming years.

However, regulation alone is not enough, and among the 24 European research institutions in the alliance, there is a strong consensus on the need for a new research agenda focusing on agroecological principles.

"Very simply, this means that we need to work towards cultivation systems that in themselves combat pests, thus reducing the need to use chemical pesticides. From an agricultural perspective, this makes sense because of the increasing problems of resistance to chemical pesticides; problems that will only get worse with the falling number of pesticides on the market,” explains Per Kudsk.

One of the first initiatives the newly established research alliance will launch is a new research agenda. Hopefully, this will make its mark on which activities are promoted in connection with future EU research and innovation initiatives such as the European Green Deal and the upcoming EU framework programme for research and innovation: Horizon Europe.

"It will be a very broad research agenda, not only with focus on technical aspects such as crop resistance, new technology and big data, but also with focus on socioeconomic aspects, including with a view to understanding what can promote, and what can hinder an agroecological transition of the agricultural sector," concludes Per Kudsk.   

Read more about the research collaboration here


Professor and section manager Per Kudsk
Department of Agroecology - Crop Health
Forsøgsvej 1 bygning 7610, A228, DK-4200 Slagelse