Biopesticides Can Contribute to the Need For Innovation in Sustainable Agriculture

By []Ali Withers

Researchers and scientists’ efforts to devise new and more sustainable farming methods are a response to pressure from retailers and consumers for healthier, chemical free food. Financial pressures have also increased on farmers all over the world, whether they are small producers or large agribusinesses, leading to a search for ways to increase their land’s productivity. Up to an estimated one third of global agricultural production is destroyed by more than 20,000 species of field and storage pests. Worries about food scarcity add to the mix as the planet’s population continues to grow.

All this takes place in the context of growing concern about the environment, about the effects via our food of excessive chemical fertiliser use on our own health and on the quality of the land we all depend on. In a way it’s irrelevant whether the motivator is fear, finance or famine or whether it’s based on ethics, concern for the planet and for inequalities between peoples.

It’s unfortunate that it’s human nature that we are prompted to innovation only when situations reach near-crisis point but it’s also encouraging that once we’ve reached that point human ingenuity can, if it tries, come up with solutions.

The result is a greater openness to innovation in the research and development of agricultural products for pest and disease control, yield improvements and sustainable farming.

This has given rise to a new approach to tackling pests and diseases which includes biological control, integrated pest management and biotechnology.

The approach stresses a more ecologically aware, whole system approach based on the study of population biology at the local farm level. It involves using a combination of science, renewable technologies such as host-plant resistance and natural biological control, which can be made available to even the most resource-poor farmers.

Take birds, for example. To a flock of hungry birds a ripening cornfield is an “all you can eat” free buffet. To the farmer they’re freeloaders, literally eating into his profits from the field.

However, another dimension of the whole issue of concern for the environment means we are all more sensitive to animal welfare issues so that much of the UK’s wildlife, for example, is now legally protected – leaving the farmer to find some “humane” means of protecting his livelihood from pillage!

Scarecrows don’t work all that well these days, birds gradually become immune to bird scarers and plainly guns and poisons won’t be acceptable to most people as a humane crop protection measure!

Here’s where innovation comes in – someone’s invented an acoustic hand-held device that works by broadcasting a digitally stored distress call to create a hostile environment in the problem area, which causes the birds to sense danger and fly away. It’s reported to be almost 100% effective.

In the growing emphasis on integrated pest management and a whole-system approach to controlling pests and increasing crop production the new generations of biopesticides currently being developed can therefore also be seen as an innovative new way of providing the agricultural products farmers and growers need for pest and disease control, yield enhancement and preserving their land’s quality.

Biopesticides are generally specific to the pest or disease they’re designed to deal with and replace the toxic chemicals used in the past with more sophisticated biologically based agents. They are derived from natural materials like animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals.

They also remain in the crop and the soil for a shorter time so there is less risk of contamination of subsoil and water and they do not on the whole lead to the development of higher levels of resistance as the previous generation of chemical pest control agents did.

There are obstacles, of course. They’re expensive to produce and have a smaller market because they are pest and location-specific. There is not yet a globally-agreed system of testing and registration for these new products and they can therefore take up to seven or eight years to come onto the market.

The question is whether we can be equally innovative in removing the obstacles to getting on with a job that is plainly urgent.

Copyright (c) 2010 Alison Withers

Humans only come up with innovative solutions when their backs are against the wall. Consumer journalist []Ali Withers asks whether pressure from consumers and therefore retailers for healthier, chemical-free foods, pressure on farmers to grow more and pressure on the environment have reached the critical mass needed to think outside the box and come up with better solutions to pest and disease control in agriculture – such as []biopesticides?

Article Source: [] Biopesticides Can Contribute to the Need For Innovation in Sustainable Agriculture

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *