As the world’s population grows, being able to feed everyone is a growing concern. (Photo: iStock)
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Using Nature’s Tools to Feed 7 Billion: Why We Need Biopesticides

Food without chemical pesticides? How we wish the fruits and veggies that we consume daily were free of pesticides.

In a world with 7 billion mouths to feed, it can be challenging to find alternatives to ­ pesticides – and it comes at a cost to our own health. As the proverb says, “What goes around comes around”. We consume the same poison that we spray. At the same time, we harm our natural resources. In a way, we are threatening our own existence.

But experts are working hard to find alternatives. The increased adoption of the Integrated Pest Management system reduces chemical load of pesticides on soil by using what the nature already offers us. Scientists are able to use certain plants and microbes to fight against weeds and even plant pests and diseases. These antagonist microbes or their products are called biopesticides.

Pests and diseases threaten agricultural productivity and our survival. (Photo: iStock)
Pests and diseases threaten agricultural productivity and our survival. (Photo: iStock)

The use of biopesticides isn’t new – back in the 17th century, nicotine was used to control beetles on plums. Since then, we have increased our understanding of the natural world. Globally, there are approximately 1,400 biopesticide products.

Unfortunately, biopesticides hold only 5 percent of the total crop protection market. However, it is estimated that it will grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 8.64 percent at least till 2023.

But there are indications that biopesticides will gain a foothold in the future of agriculture. For starters, pests and plant diseases are developing a resistance to many chemical pesticides, so alternatives are necessary.

At the same time, the public is increasingly demanding chemical-free crops as awareness about the health implications of ingesting chemicals grows.

Biopesticides are also cheaper and don’t leave a massive mark on natural resources.

Still, biopesticides historically struggled to make it into the market. In the 1980s and 1990s, a variety of factors dampened growth in the bio-pesticide industry.

  • Reluctance among farmers to adopt biopesticides
  • Biopesticides are made of living organisms, so they can’t be stored over long periods
  • Stringent regulatory procedures
  • Biopesticides exhibit high target-specificity, which is both a bane and a boon. Bane because for every pathogen, a specific bio-pesticide is required. Boon – it does not affect non-pathogenic micro-organisms
  • Biopesticides are significantly affected by the environmental conditions
  • They have lower efficacy than chemical pesticides
  • Require repetitive application to be effective
Biopesticides provide an opportunity to deal with pests and diseases that are becoming resistant to chemicals and pesticides. (Photo: iStock)
Biopesticides provide an opportunity to deal with pests and diseases that are becoming resistant to chemicals and pesticides. (Photo: iStock)

Despite the challenges, the technology unfolds tremendous potential and is expected to grow in demand and efficacy. And there are a couple of exciting developments coming up.

As we move forward, we can still expect some glitches. But it is our responsibility as growers and consumers to be persistent enough to allow this green technology to refine, grow, and enter into our ecosystems for our own good.

(The author is a Fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute . The views expressed in the article are the author’s alone. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)