Pest control is something that many know and even practice. Many may, however, not have bothered to wonder how it all started in the first place. How did pest control begin?
Some believe that pest control is as old as agriculture is. Considering that pest control is the management of any animal life that in one way or another interferes with the operations of humans and that such have always been referred to as pests and sought to be controlled, it makes sense to assume that pest control is at least as old as farming.
However, given that farming is thought to have begun sometime in 8000BC and that the first documented instance of pest control was sometime in 3000BC, this claim appears not to have any documented evidence to back it up.
Around 3000BC, Egyptians were known to have practiced a form of pest control which involved the use of cats as pest control agents in grain stores. The cats protected the grains stores from rodents. This is the oldest recorded form of pest control, a practice which is very much in use today.
Actually, the use of predators as pest control tools has been better refined over the years and has now gone far beyond just the use of cats in the control of rodents.
The first documented record of chemical pest control was sometime in 2500BC. The Sumerians who kept this record have for long been regarded as the earliest people to be regarded as civilized.
Their region – Sumer – which is located somewhere in today’s Kuwait and Iraq is also regarded as where civilization began.
Their record of pest control showed that they used sulfur as a means of controlling insects. This was the very first of such record. No other record of pest control emerged until about 1500 BC when cultural control of plants was recorded to have been used.
Farmers started trying to control pests by playing around with the planting dates and other farming practices. Methods like these are still used today in the control of pests.
By 1200 BC, we find another record of botanical insecticides being used as pest control. These were used by some farmers in China as fungicides in the treatment of seeds.
The next known record of pest control was in 950 BC when people started trying to control pest through weed burning. If practiced in farming, this certainly will have to occur before the actual planting.
Chinese records from as early as 500 BC showed that attempts were made at controlling lice on the human body with arsenic and mercury. Records from around the same period also show that Egyptians started practicing using nets over sleeping individuals as a means of controlling against mosquito bites.
Next stop is 200 BC when it is recorded that the Chinese and Egyptians started using oils and herbs as a means of controlling pests. It is, however, not on record if this was successful or not.
By 300 AD, using predators as means of pest control was again recorded. In this case, it is recorded that predatory mites were used by Chinese farmers as a pest control tool in their citrus orchards.
By 400 AD, another instance of arsenic being used as a form of pest control was recorded. In this case, arsenic was used by farmers in their rice paddies to prevent infestation by insects. The arsenic was applied to the roots of the plants.
600 years later in 1000 AD, the Arabs are shown to have taken the predatory approach to pest control. Certain species of insects from a region were introduced into date plantations in another region to feed on the local insects that were feeding on the date plants.
In all the history listed so far, the Europeans were not in the picture at all. They came on the scene sometime in the 1700s when certain scientists from Sweden started studying and keeping records of pests. This made it easier for other scientists and farmers to come up with ways to control these pests.
By 1750, scientists found that pyrethrum and derris were effective for use as botanical insecticides. With the growing awareness, the 1800s saw a spread and sharing of pest control techniques as practiced by individuals. These were distributed through papers and books.
By 1848, The French tried to control grape phylloxera (Tyrogluphus phylloxera) with the insect Viteus vitifoliae which was an import from the Americas and by 1880, a spraying machine suitable for commercial use was successfully introduced.
Americans had some success in 1888 with pest control for citrus crops. This was by means of biological pest control agents brought in from Australia.
By the year 1890, lead arsenic had become very common as a pest control agent. Its popularity continued for about 10 years by which time the health hazards associated with it become known. This awareness led to Canada instituting a law banning the use of harmful chemicals in the spraying of blooming trees as a form of pest control.
By the early 1900s, precisely 1901, weed control through biological means was successfully implemented in Hawaii while in 1921 Ohio began its first aerial application of insecticides.
Needless to say, the advancements made in the 1900s were in quick succession. 1930 saw farmers controlling plant pathogens with the use of synthetic organic compounds while benzene hexachloride and DDT were discovered to be effective for us as insecticides.
A few short years later (1948), discussions started moving towards the necessity of certain beneficial insects. Eventually, in 1959 the idea or framework for integrated pest management was laid by some scientists namely K.S. Hagen, R. van den Bosch, S.M. Stern and R.F. Smith. The name ‘integrated pest control was to be adopted eight years later in 1967.
With the framework laid, the National Environment Policy Act was passed by the United States and integrated pest management as a term was formally ratified by the National Academy of Sciences.
By 1972 the U.S. Department of Agriculture started funding integrated pest management research and the Federal Environmental Pesticides Control Act was passed. By the 1980s, IPM techniques had started yielding positive results around the world.
One of the results of IPM was genetically modified crops which were first made commercially available in 1996. However, by 2006 there were growing concerns as to the suitability of these genetically modified crops. These concerns led to certain aspects of the IPM techniques being put on hold.
The history of pest control is pretty long and quite interesting. The advancements made in recent times have come in quick succession and show no signs of slowing down. As users begin to pay closer attention to what they use for pest control, a pressure is put on manufacturers as well as regulatory bodies to put in more effort into ensuring only safe products and methods are used.
Tomorrow’s history is being written by us today.