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Barbasco Bio Pesticide

Food Chain, Peru

The Peruvian rainforests are home to the promising plant Barbasco. The roots of this plant have been used by the indigenous people for ages as a natural poison. They traditionally used Barbasco as a fishing instrument: A small amount of powdered root is thrown into the water. It sedates or kils fish and they are easily collected from the surface. The fish that are caught in this manner can be eaten by humans, because the poisonous substance is poorly absorbed by the human digestive system. Whereas fish absorb it rapidly into their bloodstream by breathing through their gills.

Temporary poisonous effects
Nowadays, the active substance of the Barbasco, Rotenone, has become an important organic pesticide. It is extremely poisonous to insects, and can be used to kill lice and flees on livestock and to kill a great diversity of small insects on plants. Of course, this is still poison we are talking about. Consequently it has to be applied carefully and moderately. But the positive thing is that this poison naturally breaks down. When exposed to the sunlight and air, the Rotenone loses its effectiveness in a weeks time and does not leave a harmful residue on plant leaves or in the soil, as opposed to chemical pesticides.

Alternative to chemical pesticides
In Peru's neighboring country Argentine, the use of chemical pesticides have become a serious threat to human health and to the environment. The country is a top producer of grains, with a rapidly growing soy bean production. The use of chemical pesticides has similarly increased. Exposure to high levels of toxins have correlated with an unusual high number of cases of cancer, reproductive challenges and deformed fetuses. Although the long term effects of Barbasco have not been fully tested yet - and is thus still officially listed as 'mildly poisonous to humans' - it seems to be a promising alternative, well worth investigating.