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  • Writer's pictureFrancieli Iung Izolani

The "Green Revolution" and Pesticides: why an agroecological transition is urgent and necessary

Francieli Iung Izolani

Leura Dalla Riva

Pesticides were used as chemical weapons during the First and Second World Wars, with one of the most famous being DDT, an organic compound of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane. According to Rachel Carson (1994, p. 17-18), since DDT was made available for civilian use, more and more toxic materials have been produced in man's war against nature to kill insects, weeds and rodents, but which, in fact, have the power to silence nature, impregnating water, soil, food and the human body.

From the world wars, pesticides became cosmetics and then reached the crops, reaching Brazil through the "Green Revolution" after the Second World War, when the incentive to use pesticides was made under the argument that it was a great scientific advance to fight hunger, providing efficient and productive agriculture (GRAFF, 2013, p. 38-39).

It should also be noted that DDT was also considered a solution to public health and its inventor was rewarded with a Nobel Prize. Nowadays, along with other poisons, it entails major socio-environmental costs, especially ecological and health costs, and was banned from the countries of the Social North a long time ago, while in Brazil it was only banned in 2009. DDT, however, is just one of several other products that are still widely used in agriculture worldwide.

Pesticides were introduced through the "Green Revolution" as a technological tool to solve the problems of modern agriculture, deeply associated with the monoculture model. These homogeneous production systems have since become deeply dependent on pesticides and transgenic seeds that "disintegrate the community structure, displace people from the various occupations and make production dependent on external inputs and external markets", which generates, on the other hand, political and economic vulnerability and instability, given that "the basis of production is ecologically unstable and the markets for goods are economically unstable" (SHIVA, 2003, p. 99; DALLA RIVA, 2020).

Gladstone Leonel Júnior (2019, p. 47) points out that the marketing of genetically modified seeds is closely linked to the sale of pesticides, both supplied by the same corporations (such as Bayer, Syngenta, Basf, Dupont, Monsanto, Bunge, among others). Contrary to the claims of their promoters, GMOs actually lead to an increase in the use of pesticides due to the resistance that plants develop against these chemicals. This also contributes to the rapid emergence of "superweeds" and pest insects that develop resistance, exacerbating the problems that these technologies set out to solve (ALTIERI, 2012, p. 38; LEONEL JÚNIOR, 2019, p. 43-47; DALLA RIVA, 2020).

Proponents of the Green Revolution promoted the adoption of practices such as intensive mechanization, widespread use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and the cultivation of varieties, species and hybrids with high productivity but little genetic diversity. They propagated the belief that the advancement and improvement of agriculture would be achieved through these strategies, presenting them as the definitive solution to eradicating hunger, while neglecting the related social and political complexities (SANTILLI, 2009, p. 62-63; DALLA RIVA, 2020). The more tolerant and resistant the plants are, the more pesticides need to be applied, further increasing the existing environmental risk since pesticides "degrade the soil, contaminate the water and accumulate in food", destroy biodiversity, reduce the concentration of the workforce and drive families out of the countryside.

The Green Revolution has resulted in the exclusion of numerous farmers who are unable to bear the high production costs: "the poorest farmers have no place in the market promoted by large companies" (ALTIERI, 2012, p. 30, 58), since "to maintain a scale of competition and the margin of benefit, only large companies can produce in large quantities, something that small farmers cannot do" (LEONEL JÚNIOR, 2019, p. 57).

This "ideology of modernization" based on defending "technological" solutions to the problems of contemporary agriculture is now hegemonic in the agricultural sciences and the Brazilian economy. The discourse that "you can't plant without pesticides" and that "agribusiness is essential for the Brazilian economy and for feeding the population" are some of the fallacies that a critical study of the subject can dispel. In fact, in a system where ecosystems are extremely degraded, it is true that cultivation becomes difficult or even impossible without the use of these products. The transition to agroecological systems, however, is possible and necessary.

In this sense, we can mention the studies carried out by Altieri in which the author demonstrates that agroecological practices, despite an initial drop in productivity, compensate greatly for the initial losses with a large increase in future gains due to the maintenance or increase in productivity over the long term (ALTIERI, 2012, p. 211):

The two agricultural models (monoculture-transgenic vs. agroecological) are based on totally different ecological rationalities (DALLA RIVA, 2020; IZOLANI, 2021). Agroecology, as a science that opposes the monoculture model, is sustainable in several dimensions: social, economic and ecological, as it provides for the participation of communities in the creation of activities and projects, so that peasants are "actors in their own development" since "stable production can only take place in the context of a social organization that protects the integrity of natural resources and encourages harmonious interaction between human beings, the agroecosystem and the environment" (ALTIERI, 2004, p. 26-27).

The monoculture-transgenic model, on the other hand, has been reproduced for decades at the expense of ecosystem contamination, a decrease in biodiversity, damage to human health (it's worth thinking about the numerous studies that show the link between the use of pesticides and an increase in cancer) (IZOLANI, 2021; CARNEIRO, 2015), an increase in the rural exodus of small farmers, an increase in inequality and the enrichment of large estates through the concentration of income and land in the hands of a few producers. To make matters worse, this "agribusiness" model doesn't even produce "food". The main agricultural products in Brazil today are soybeans and corn, which are considered "commodities" that are especially destined for export and animal feed (DALLA RIVA, 2020) (a deeply controversial topic that we will delve into later).

It is clear that the benefits of a transition to agroecological models transcend simply the economic aspect, since the perception of development exclusively in terms of financial profit is among the reasons for the challenges faced today. Furthermore, it is important to recognize that the change from modern agricultural practices to agroecological methods is an intricate process that could and should be encouraged by the state, for example by offering subsidies to farmers who are willing to make this change (DALLA RIVA, 2020).

In short, given the current context of ecological crisis and overcoming planetary limits - among them the loss of biodiversity - (ROCKSTRÖM, 2015) and the urgent need to look for more sustainable production alternatives, it is understood that any initial economic loss from a transition process should be considered derisory, as it will be duly compensated for if the benefits of agroecological plantings are analyzed in the long term.


ALTIERI, Miguel. Agroecologia: a dinâmica produtiva da agricultura sustentável. 5. ed.

Porto Alegre: UFRGS, 2004.

CARSON, Rachel. Primavera silenciosa. Trad. Raul de Polillo. 2. ed. São Paulo: Melhoramentos, 1994.

CARNEIRO, Fernando Ferreira et al (Org.). Dossiê ABRASCO: um alerta sobre os impactos dos agrotóxicos na saúde. Rio de Janeiro: EPSJV; São Paulo: Expressão Popular, 2015.

DALLA RIVA, Leura. De Marx ao MST: Capitalismo financeirizado e forma jurídica como entraves à agroecologia. Dissertação de Mestrado. Programa de Pós-graduação em Direito da Universidade Federal de Santa Maria (PPGD-UFSM). 2020.

IZOLANI, Francieli Iung. Direito à segurança alimentar e acesso à informação ambiental. agrointoxicação e impactos do consumo de horifrutigranjeiros. Dissertação de Mestrado. Programa de Pós-graduação em Direito da Universidade Federal de Santa Maria (PPGD-UFSM). 2021.

GRAFF, Laíse. Os agrotóxicos e o meio ambiente: uma abordagem a partir do direito humano à alimentação adequada. Caxias do Sul: Universidade de Caxias do Sul, 2013.

Johan ROCKSTRÖM. Big World, Small Planet: Abundance Within Planetary Boundaries. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.

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