A farmer manoeuvres a drone for spraying pesticides


© Xinhua News Agency / Eyevine

The word “pharmaceutical” derives from the Greek “phármakon”, which meant “poison”. Today, the scientific community is in general agreement that the difference between a pharmaceutical and a poison lies only in the dosage.
This consideration is behind the use of drones to treat crops with pesticides and phytopharmaceuticals in a more targeted manner. Agricultural drones use sensors to detect areas that actually need treatment and to target these with exactly the right amount of product, thereby reducing the diffusion of chemicals into the soil and water table beneath. This seems to be a step forward in the conservation of our planet, but it is only a matter of appearance: the pesticide we see being sprayed in the photo will still find its way into the soil and water table, a little at a time. In many cases, the ecosystem is simply unable to deal with the synthetic products used in op spraying.
What would happen if, instead of limiting our use of pesticides, we decided not to use them at all? To make plants more resistant to insects or adverse climatic conditions, we could try working from within. For some time now, biotechnologies have given us the ability to modify plant genomes and improve performance by making tiny changes without affecting the properties of the plant and without risk to ourselves. We can teach tomatoes to resist drought and teach rice to withstand flooding. The necessary knowledge comes from other plants that already have these capabilities: extensive study of the DNA of resistant plants will allow scientists to modify their “weaker” cousins accordingly. As with all techniques, this too, needs to be used with care, but the phantomatic “GMO” varieties we fear so much may not in fact present any risk.

Annachiara Tesoriere