Integrated pest management (IPM) is a mandatory requirement in the UTZ Code of Conduct. But how does IPM work in practice and what are some of the techniques used on UTZ farms? We spoke to Indira Moreno Echeveri UTZ’s pest management expert about three alternatives to pesticides – cultural, mechanical and biological techniques – with examples from UTZ farmers around the world.
Pesticides can be harmful for farmers, consumers and the environment. That’s why on UTZ farms pesticides are only used as a last resort. UTZ farmers are trained in IPM using a range of good agricultural practices and non-chemical measures to reduce pests and disease and avoid the use of chemicals.
Cultural methods: creating the unfavorable climate for pests
One of the first steps in IPM is making sure that the environment on the farm doesn’t encourage pests. These ‘cultural’ methods include, for example, the management of so called shade trees planted on the farm. These shade trees ensure the right micro climate for the coffee or cocoa plants – not too humid for instance. This helps to prevent pests and diseases from taking hold.
Using mechanical methods to remove pests
If a farm does experience a pest outbreak, UTZ farmers may use mechanical methods – tools and techniques that directly kill or remove pests, without the use of chemicals. In Vietnam, for example, water is used to wash mealybugs off coffee plants and then lime is used to kill the bugs once they’ve been removed from the trees. This technique also helps to water the coffee plants, particularly important during the dry season. Another example, this time from China, is the use of sticky traps in tea plantations that capture pests including leafhoppers (empoasca) and aphids.
The benefits of biological control
Living organisms like fungi, predators or parasitoids can also be used to control pests and diseases. These biological methods include the use of pheromones that attract and trap insects or disrupt their mating, helping to reduce pest populations. In Vietnam, for example ants are used to protect cocoa plants against mosquito bugs (helopeltis). The ants scare away or eat the mosquitos who would otherwise damage the pods.
Another example, is the use of pheromone traps to control coffee berry borer, one of the most serious pests affecting coffee crops around the world. In Peru, its range is expanding to higher altitudes as temperatures rise due to climate change. Peruvian farmers are also using biological methods to combat this pest, including fungal spores that kill the borer shortly after contact.