With the ecological consequences of food production and agricultural practices coming under increased scrutiny, and being reassessed and remodelled, biopesticides have come under the spotlight. They are seen as filling a gap in the market created by the removal of conventional pesticides. Dr Minshad Ansari, Founder and CEO of biopesticide technology developer Bionema, UK, unpicks this issue.
The global biopesticide market is growing 3.5 times faster than the conventional pesticide market and expected to grow from $3.8 billion in 2018 to almost $10 billion by 2025 at 17% CGAR (DunhanTrimmer 2019). Around 30% of plant protection tools now available are biological, and more than 50% of new regulatory applications are biological products.
Despite significant growth in the biocontrol industry, there is an urgent need to develop novel products, formulations and delivery systems to not only “fill the gaps” in the market due to a large amount of pesticides being banned, but also to anticipate future requirements as insects are developing resistance to currently used insecticides. In addition, there is increasing consumer led retailer demand for growers to reduce the use of chemical pesticides in crop production and to grow fruit and vegetables with reduced detectable residues.
Eco-friendly, nature-based alternatives to the harsh, chemical pesticides we have used for many decades to control pests and diseases and increase yield are transforming the industry. And they are ushering in a new era of cleaner agronomy that could see biopesticides taking an increased share of the pesticide market – currently only 10%.
Companies like ours develop eco-friendly natural products to protect crops from pests and diseases and reduce the use of synthetic pesticides. In fact, Bionema @Bionema is at the forefront of some of the most exciting advances in technology being made in the biopesticide industry.
This is important because we are living in very crucial times for food production and land management. Safe, responsible, and sustainable food production is a cornerstone of the continued survival of life, and some of the most exciting solutions to the biggest problems facing food production are to be found within nature. These biopesticides are, in many cases, already being developed or used successfully, and others are well within our grasp. In fact, I believe biopesticide can fill gap in the market as well as increase market share of 20% in next ten years. We are at a point in time where the public are more aware of, or more vocal of, their expectations when it comes to the impact of the practices of industry upon our environment. And public scrutiny is a very powerful driver of the practices of the biopesticide industry.
It is very clear that we have reached a watershed moment. There is a growing acceptance among food producers that practices need to be modernised. There is a groundswell of public awareness that we cannot continue to lean upon traditional, damaging pesticides, some of which we have been using for many decades, to support production. The long-term negative effects of using chemical pesticides on the fertility of our land, and the threat this brings to our survival, is well documented. Also, health experts and scientists have been flagging up links between pesticide use and a host of diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, brain, prostate and kidney cancers, for many years.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that pesticides are responsible for up to five million cases of poisoning each year, of which 20,000 are lethal. And, it says, pesticides affect children and infants disproportionately.
The evidence to support wholesale change is there, credible science is there, the will is there, and, to some extent, the funding is increasingly there to ensure efficacious new products to fill the gap in the market created by the removal of pesticides. The remaining hurdles are largely around the slow pace of regulation and licencing these products for the marketplace
Some of Europe’s largest growers are already reaping the benefits of using non-toxic alternatives to chemical pesticides. In Spain’s notorious ‘Sea of Plastic’, the 30,000-hectare corner of Almeria which produces most of the fruits and vegetables that are consumed throughout Europe, sachets of miniscule mites are used, which are draped from pepper, tomato and courgette plants, and attack the parasites that threaten these crops. In fact, the use of insecticides in Almeria has, according to local authorities, dropped by 40% since 2007.
The biopesticide movement has experienced a very interesting development over the past few decades. Our use of insecticides surged in the 1960s, at a time when, at least in the Western World, there was a public awakening to the fact that our chemical-laden environment was perhaps hostile to health and life.
However, global population pressures have driven producers to increase their output and to find ever more efficient ways of meeting demand. Insecticides have done much to help meet those needs. But they have done so at great cost to human health, to the environment and to the long-term viability of our soil. Growers are also having to meet the man-made challenge of crop resistance to those chemicals we have been using so liberally for years.
There is still work to be done to educate farmers, many of whom are in a holding pattern of disinfecting their land with fungicides, and using other chemical agents, simply because this is what they have always done, and because these chemicals are being recommended and sold to them by companies they have dealt with over many years and which they trust.
But the regulatory barriers are complex, and there are consistent challenges. They require the efficacy of a biopesticide to be quantified and proved, they require the biopesticide to pose minimal or zero risk, toxicological and eco-toxicological evaluations, and other stringent tests. These tests have been put in place for chemical pesticides, but they are perhaps not appropriate for biopesticides. Meeting the current requirements can be prohibitively expensive for biopesticide developers, many of which are SME’s. This can deter developers from commercialising their products. Therefore, the challenge for the regulator is to have an appropriate system in place for biopesticides that ensures their safety and consistency, but which does not inhibit commercialisation. If this nettle can be grasped, which I believe it can, then we can lift the primary drag upon progress in this field.
This article was written by Dr Minshad Ansari, Founder and CEO of Bionema, UK.