Today, pesticides are often used to help control insect pests, but with variable effectiveness and considerable expense. Even with effective control measures in place, countries with tropical climates such as India often have very severe insect damage that results in yield reductions of over 60%. Improving insect control strategies is important for several reasons. Decreasing the amounts of pesticides used in agriculture will benefit both the farm workers and the environment. In addition, we will need to dramatically increase agricultural production to meet the nutritional requirements of the additional two billion people expected to join us on Earth by 2050.
What is Insect Resistance?
Insect resistance refers to crops that either naturally or through genetic engineering are able to resist insect damage. Insect-resistant crops generally produce compounds that are toxic to insects that attempt to eat the resistant plants.
How have these crops contributed to sustainability?
Insect-resistant crops have become important tools for farmers, both large and small, around the world. Insect resistant corn and cotton have been credited with reducing the amount of chemical insecticides applied worldwide to those crops by 136.6 million kg, a 29.9% reduction. This has been particularly dramatic in cotton, where the use of Bt varieties has been integral to campaigns to eradicate major pests such as the pink bollworm from cotton-growing areas. In addition, the widespread use of insect-resistant corn in the US Midwest has reduced insect populations such that even farmers who do not use the Bt-containing varieties received economic benefits of over $4.3 billion since 1996 due to reduced insect pressure.