So far, data on pesticide use in China are available from three main sources, which are respectively FAO, National Bureau of Statistics and NATESC (Table 1). For example, the pesticide use in 2018 was shown as 1.7736 million tons on data of FAO and 1.5036 million tons on data of the National Bureau of Statistics, which were all pesticide formulations, whilst the data of NATESC revealed 268,400 tons of pesticides converted to 100% content. As the statistics of FAO and the that of the National Bureau of Statistics both refer to pesticide formulations while NATESC used the amount converted to 100% content, the ratio of formulations and the amount in 100% content is 1:5.60 - 6.61.
According to the data on the amount in 100% content, the use of pesticides in China was 299,500 tons in 2015, which was down to 268,400 tons in 2018, a decrease of 31,600 tons from 2015 to 2018, down 10.6%. In 2015, the total crop planting area in China was 166.8 million hectares, being applied with pesticides at 1.795 kg/ha per unit area; In 2018, the total crop planting area in China was 165.9 million hectares, being applied with pesticides at 1.618 kg/ha per unit area, where the amount of pesticide use per unit area decreased by 9.9%. According to open data, the use of pesticides in California in 2018 was 94,800 tons, the area covered by pesticide application was 42.70 million hectares, being applied with pesticides at 2.22 kg/ha per unit area, which revealed China’s significantly lower per-unit use over California. Taking into account the fact that pesticides in China are not only applied to farming but are also applied to forestation against insect pests, post-harvest grain storage, entry and exit quarantine, sanitary pest control. Therefore, the amount of pesticide use per unit area in Chinese agriculture should be even lower than the calculated amount of 1.618 kg/ha per unit area in 2018.
Table 1. Pesticide use data from different source (000 tons)
The proportion of Chinese pesticide use in the world
Some experts mention that China’s pesticide use per unit area is 2 to 3 times that of developed countries (even higher amount is reported), where China’s 9% arable land uses 50% to 60% of the world’s pesticides.
Because the data reported in China refer to pesticide formulations while the pesticide varieties used in different countries are different, the content of formulations are significantly different and the amount of formulations is not comparable.
China has endeavored to develop water-based and environment-friendly formulations such as suspension agents and emulsions in water, which usually have a content level from 30% to 50%. The content of abamectin, which is an extensively used pesticide variety in China, is mostly of the content of only 1.8%. The content of pesticide-fertilizer granules developed over recent years is mostly less than 0.5%, whilst some pesticide-fertilizer granules are even as low as 0.01%. So, it is unreasonable to calculate the amount of pesticide use by the content of the formulations.
FAO data reveals the use of pesticides in the United States in 2018 of 407,800 tons. According to open data, the amount of pesticides converted to 100% content used in California in 2018 was 94,800 tons. California’s agricultural output value accounts for about 22% of the total U.S. agricultural output value. As indicated by the proportion and referring to the amount of pesticides used in California, it can be estimated that the pesticide use converted to 100% in the United States would be 430,900 tons. By comparing with the pesticide use in the United States as shown on FAO data, the pesticide use converted to 100% in the United States is 407,800 tons. By comparing the pesticide use between the United States and China only, China is unlikely to take up 50% of the world’s pesticide use.
The world’s major countries of pesticide production and use also include the United States, Brazil, India and Japan. Because roughly 50% of Chinese pesticides is exported, from this perspective, China’s pesticide use is not possible to take up 50% of the world’s pesticide use.
According to the pesticide data of Phillips McDougall, the total sales value of the world pesticide market in 2020 was around $46.093 billion, whilst the total sales value on the Chinese pesticide market is about $7.821 billion accounting for roughly 16.97% of the global sales. Therefore, it can be judged that China’s pesticide use takes up no more than 20% of the world’s pesticide use.
What is different from other countries with larger per capita arable land area where land lie fallow quite often, China has a large population with less arable land, where multiple cropping index is high and the amount of pesticides used per unit area is not high.
The authors of this article:
Cao Aocheng, Yan Dongdong, Wang Qiuxia, Li RMB, Fang Wensheng
Institute of Plant Protection, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences