Pesticide-Free Territories

Lead Organization:

Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE)

Partner Organizations:

IRD; Universidad Central del Ecuador; SWISSAID; farmers, among them women’s association Unión y Progreso de la parroquia Aláquez; and the ancestral community of San Isidro

Community of Practice:







Pesticide use is rising almost everywhere on the planet, especially in lower income countries where pesticides are weakly regulated (Struelens et al., 2022). Many countries share the goal of reducing pesticides and, owing to the negative environmental and human health impacts, their use is a major public policy issue, (Jacquet et al., 2022). Yet banning or even substantially reducing pesticide use has failed globally. Among the key obstacles that explain farmers’ difficulty in changing their practices: lack of proper indicators to monitor the effects of pesticide use, scant implementation of agroecological principles such as integrated pest and pollinator management (IPPM) (Egan et al., 2020), lack of perceived benefits from natural enemies and pollinators, and lock-in of the entire agrifood chain around pesticide-based systems (Jacquet et al., 2022). 

While many R&D projects focus on partial reduction in pesticide use or not using a specific pesticide, the socioeconomic and ecological implications of large-scale transitions into pesticide-free production are still poorly documented. Only a handful of real-world data and territory-scale experiences exist (e.g. in Switzerland, Mack et al., 2023).

In the Ecuadorian Sierra, smallholder production supplies a significant part of the staple food consumed in the country (Cordova et al., 2018). Threats to its sustainability include government-supported promotion of expensive chemical pesticides, mining development, and bigger and potentially devastating crop losses because of pests, which climate change exacerbates (Deutsch et al., 2018). Many Ecuadorian farmers remain dependent on chemical pesticides, endangering not only farm ecosystem health but also their own (Di Cesare, 2018). Those who cannot afford the chemical pesticides simply do not do any pest management. Interviews with Ecuadorian farmers and beekeepers confirmed that the broad spectrum action of pesticides have harmed non-target organisms (e.g. ladybugs, insectivorous birds, bees), many of which can benefit crop production. Farmers are incited by sellers to apply pesticides even at low pest densities (or as preventive measures), potentially impeding positive effects of herbivory on plants. To illustrate the potential negative effects of pesticide applications in the case of the Ecuadorian lupine, previous project research found that natural abundances of pollinators can increase lupine production by 15 to 20 percent (Struelens et al., 2021) and that the attack of low densities of herbivores can increase yields up to three times through a pruning effect (Pasquier et al., in prep.). In this case, pesticides can negatively affect yields.

Grant Aims:

See Outputs and Outcomes, below.

Outputs and Outcomes:


  • Co-creation, establishment, and inter-institutional coordination between local stakeholders and researchers to form sustainable OASIS: participatory mapping, social network analysis, legal and juridical constitution, commitments, farmer insurance, and added value to local products 
  • Community IPPM and shared learning spaces: FabLab of biopesticides, beehives, WhatsApp network for plant telemedicine, and scientific-local knowledge exchanges 
  • Creation and management of habitats through scientific and local knowledge of edge plants (community nurseries) and family orchards 
  • Operational system for participatory monitoring of OASIS health based on pesticide ban, flora, and entomofauna; entomoliteracy plus citizen science database (iNaturalist) 
  • Establishment and accompaniment of agroecological schools by farmer teachers (school coordinators) 
  • Integration of new modules on IPPM practices in existing school programs (both farmers and basic education units) in Chimborazo, Tungurahua, and Bolivar 
  • Inter- and transdisciplinary spaces for discussion about sustainable food systems, success stories from the field, and policy briefs to advocate against pesticide use 


  • Involve new neighboring actors (neighbors) to expand territories (OASIS) 
  • Common territorial values among stakeholders (farmers, beekeepers, extensionists, researchers) High crop yields without use of pesticides, i.e., at lower economic and environmental cost 
  • More knowledge, interest, and conservation of native biodiversity in agricultural landscapes; IPPM methods and concepts more present in educational programs 
  • Creation of a long-term inter- and transdisciplinary think tank at PUCE to promote citizen-academia-policy interface