Agricultural Pesticides: Q&A (1)


We usually hear contradictory views on agricultural pesticides, with much focus on their hazards. I would say they are ill-reputed chemicals, often depicted in movies and TV series as carcinogenic products promoted by greedy devilish people aiming at milking the cash cow.

At the beginning of my career I worked, under the supervision of a distinguished pesticides’ expert, on a translation project of a user manual tackling the safe use of pesticides. Indeed, it was an enlightening adventure where I learnt a lot about an entirely new field to me and realized how limited and unscientific my view of pesticides as a common citizen had been.

Pesticides can best be described as plant protection products. They are key players in crop cultivation; without them, the world would lose much of its food, and farmers most of their income. Think of the vaccinations and medications that save people’s lives; can you imagine the world without them? Still, what if these drugs were misused; here they would pose serious hazards to one’s health.

Misusing pesticides can have devastating effects on entire ecosystems, the environment, and public health. Therefore, governments around the world have regulatory entities that oversee the assessment, registration, trade, distribution, and use of pesticides in their countries. Examples include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the USA and the Agricultural Pesticides Committee (APC) in Egypt.

Let me take you dear readers on an informative journey of questions and answers to shed some light on pesticides, their types, importance, and further points.

What Are Pesticides?

Pesticides are chemicals used to control specific creatures that are considered pests; these include any organism that causes plant diseases, be it plant, insect, rodent, or micro-organism. These chemicals are designed to kill or repel pests, so they are toxic by definition. No wonder the branches of science that study them are chemistry and toxicology.

Pesticides come in different formulations, including liquid, gel, paste, chalk, powder, granules, pellets, and baits. They also come in different containers, including glass, plastic or metal flasks, plastic bags, or paper bags.

What Are the Types of Pesticides?

There are several types of pesticides that are classified according to the type of pests they target. Hereunder are some common types:

  • Insecticides: Used to control insects, they can be further divided to ovicides, which act against insect eggs, and larvicides, which act against larvae.
  • Herbicides: Used to control unwanted plants, known as weeds, which can stunt plant growth and even damage crops.
  • Fungicides: Used to control fungal problems like molds, mildew, and rust.
  • Rodenticides: Used to control rodents like mice and rats.
  • Antimicrobials and disinfectants: Used to control germs and microbes such as bacteria and viruses.

Why Are Pesticides Important?

The main benefit of pesticides is that they significantly increase the world’s food production. Pesticides have allowed farmers to maximize the benefit of their resources, such as seeds, water, and fertilizers, to produce more crops on less land, increasing crop productivity by 20–50%.

Pesticides have also greatly contributed to preventing food loss in both pre- and post-harvest stages. According to a research paper published in Agronomy for Sustainable Development journal, “without pesticides, 70% of crop yields could have been lost to pests”. This is without doubt a loss our world cannot afford, given the fact that millions of people are already facing food shortage or malnutrition issues.

Additionally, the use of pesticides has also helped farmers make more profit and avoid catastrophic financial losses. Farmers can also protect their crops while avoiding the hardship of weeding and removing pests from fields on their own. This means many vulnerable field workers, including children and poor women, having the choice to pursue opportunities away from farming; thus, improving the quality of life and raising living standards.

Moreover, according to the EPA, using pesticides can help prevent significant public health problems. They protect us against many vector-borne diseases carried by pests such as mosquitos, ticks, and rodents. These diseases include the West Nile virus, Lyme disease, rabies, bubonic plague, malaria, and typhus. Pesticides can greatly reduce the number of such pests around crops, and hence reduce the number of human deaths due to these diseases.

Together, all of the abovementioned benefits contribute to safeguarding valuable resources and making food much more affordable.


Popp, J., Pető, K. & Nagy, J. “Pesticide Productivity and Food Security. A Review”. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 33, 243–255 (2013).
International Labour Office. Code of Practice on Safety and Health in Agriculture. ILO. (2010).

Images by Freepik.


About Us

SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
Continue reading

Contact Us

P.O. Box 138, Chatby 21526, Alexandria, EGYPT
Tel.: +(203) 4839999
Ext.: 1737–1781

Become a member

© 2024 | Bibliotheca Alexandrina