Pesticide use by cotton farmers in Mali has fallen by as much as 92% as a result of field schools training growers in alternative pest control measures, according to a new report.

London’s Royal Society conducted the study of the initiatives conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations since 2003, comparing cotton farmers in Bla – the location of the field schools – with those in Bougouni, where the programme is not yet active.

Although only 34% of the farmers in Bla had taken part in the programme, pesticide use across the region fell by 92%, suggesting that knowledge of alternative methods had been widely disseminated in the area.

But in Bougouni, levels of pesticide use remained unchanged.

The study also found that shifting to alternative “biopesticides” such as neem tree extract had reduced production costs by nearly US$500,000, as well as cutting pesticide use by more than 47,000 litres.

So far, more than 20,000 cotton farmers in Mali have been through the field schools.

“We must learn from farmers’ experience,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

“Pragmatic, field-based and farmer-centric education can and must play a key role in making agriculture stronger and more sustainable.”