What are Pesticides?

Pesticides are chemical substances that are meant to kill pests. In general, a pesticide is a chemical or a biological agent such as a virus, bacterium, antimicrobial, or disinfectant that deters, incapacitates, kills, pests.

This use of pesticides is so common that the term pesticide is often treated as synonymous with plant protection product. It is commonly used to eliminate or control a variety of agricultural pests that can damage crops and livestock and reduce farm productivity. The most commonly applied pesticides are insecticides to kill insects, herbicides to kill weeds, rodenticides to kill rodents, and fungicides to control fungi, mold, and mildew.

A Brief History

Pesticides are not recent inventions! Many ancient civilizations used pesticides to protect their crops from insects and pests. Ancient Sumerians used elemental sulfur to protect their crops from insects. Whereas, Medieval farmers experimented with chemicals using arsenic, lead on common crops.

The Chinese used arsenic and mercury compounds to control body lice and other pests. While, the Greeks and Romans used oil, ash, sulfur, and other materials to protect themselves, their livestock, and their crops from various pests.

Meanwhile, in the nineteenth century, researchers focused more on natural techniques involving compounds made with the roots of tropical vegetables and chrysanthemums. In 1939, Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane (DDT) was discovered, which has become extremely effective and rapidly used as the insecticide in the world. However, twenty years later, due to biological effects and human safety, DDT has been banned in almost 86 countries.

Definition of Pesticides

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has defined pesticide as:

any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, or controlling any pest, including vectors of human or animal disease, unwanted species of plants or animals, causing harm during or otherwise interfering with the production, processing, storage, transport, or marketing of food, agricultural commodities, wood and wood products or animal feedstuffs, or substances that may be administered to animals for the control of insects, arachnids, or other pests in or on their bodies.

Types of Pesticides

These are grouped according to the types of pests which they kill:

Grouped by Types of Pests They Kill

·         Insecticides – insects

·         Herbicides – plants

·         Rodenticides – rodents (rats & mice)

·         Bactericides – bacteria

·         Fungicides – fungi

·         Larvicides – larvae

Based on how biodegradable they are:

Pesticides can also be considered as:


The biodegradable kind is those which can be broken down by microbes and other living beings into harmless compounds.


While the persistent ones are those which may take months or years to break down.

Another way to classify these is to consider those that are chemical forms or are derived from a common source or production method.

Chemically-related pesticides:


Most organophosphates are insecticides, they affect the nervous system by disrupting the enzyme that regulates a neurotransmitter.


Similar to the organophosphorus pesticides, the carbamate pesticides also affect the nervous system by disrupting an enzyme that regulates the neurotransmitter. However, the enzyme effects are usually reversible.

Organochlorine insecticides:

They were commonly used earlier, but now many countries have been removed Organochlorine insecticides from their market due to their health and environmental effects and their persistence (e.g., DDT, chlordane, and toxaphene).


These are a synthetic version of pyrethrin, a naturally occurring pesticide, found in chrysanthemums(Flower). They were developed in such a way as to maximise their stability in the environment.

Sulfonylurea herbicides:

The sulfonylureas herbicides have been commercialized for weed control such as pyrithiobac-sodium, cyclosulfamuron, bispyribac-sodium, terbacil, sulfometuron-methyl Sulfosulfuron, rimsulfuron, pyrazosulfuron-ethyl, imazosulfuron, nicosulfuron, oxasulfuron, nicosulfuron, flazasulfuron, primisulfuron-methyl, halosulfuron-methyl, flupyrsulfuron-methyl-sodium, ethoxysulfuron, chlorimuron-ethyl, bensulfuron-methyl, azimsulfuron, and amidosulfuron.


The biopesticides are certain types of pesticides derived from such natural materials as animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals.

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