Biopesticides to Play a Critical Role in Pest Management in Future

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Biopesticides, defined as the pesticides derived from natural resources (microorganisms, plants, mineral oils etc.), have long been a part of agriculture globally without taking up the major share of agrochemicals market. In recent times, scientists, regulators and consumers globally are raising health concerns caused by usage of chemicals pesticides, even for newer range of pesticides like neonicotinoids. This coupled with the increasing information access to consumers, the biopesticides are forecasted to grow at a CAGR 2.5 times higher than synthetic chemical pesticides.

In the last decade, biologicals have come to fore in agri-input and this is also evident from the acquisitions/collaborations by global majors in crop protection of a biological companies e.g. Syngenta-Pasteuria Bioscience, BASF-Becker Underwood, Monsanto-Novozyme, Bayer-AgraQuest etc.

Some the obvious drivers for acquisitions/collaborations in biologicals space are:

(a) the increasing cost of discovery of new chemical molecules

(b) stringency of regulatory agencies to make sure that pesticides with minimal/no residues in environment (soil, air, water streams) or food chain are released for use, at least in developed economies, leading to increasing cost of registrations of a new molecule.

The cost of new chemical crop protection product from discovery to market costs about $286 million whereas, the launch of a new biological product cost $10 – $15 million. Moreover, the advances in biologicals sciences like decreasing costs of genetic sequencing of plant and soil microbiomes, advances in cost-effective, industrial-scale fermentation processes, and emergence of novel gene-editing and RNAi technologies are also playing their part in enticing most of global innovators to have a pie of the biopesticides cake in the global crop protection industry.

The major challenge for biopesticides lies in marketing, Legacy farmers feel that chemical pesticides are their best bet to tackle crop pests. The farmers perceive that:

(a) Biopesticides act slower than synthetic pesticides

(b) The effect of biopesticides on pest control is not visible immediately

(c) The presence of spurious products in the markets make it difficult for them to select premium products

Farmers also get overwhelmed and confused with multiple biopesticide products available in the market with no company registration number, the active ingredients mentioned on the label and/or no address of the manufacturing company. The harm caused by such products goes beyond just monetary losses and depresses consumers’ confidence in biopesticides.

Despite these challenges, the use of biopesticides is increasing, more so in developed economies like USA, Canada, European Countries, China, Taiwan, Australia, South Korea etc. In a country like India where agriculture is dominant force for the economy with 17.32% to GDP, there is an opportunity to promote the use of biopesticide products in agriculture which will lead to various benefits like (a) reduced chemical pesticide use (b) minimal or zero residues and concurrent health benefits.

The economics of scale of operations from consumers’ point of view, government regulations, involvement of the industry and confidence among the end users will play a major role in popularizing the usage. For Industry, the challenges will be finding ways to

(a) Increase the efficacy of the microbial activity,

(b) Improve the shelf life,

(c) Enhanced delivery systems,

(d) Broad host range,

(e) Consistency in product performance in diverse field conditions.

The regulatory authorities will have a very prominent role to play in respective countries including India by changing the regulatory environment for biopesticides, which currently follow the same rules and regulations as synthetic pesticides. It is imperative that separate regulations be framed for the registration, production and marketing of biopesticides to bring in more stringency to encourage the innovations by industry and discourage spurious players. This can be achieved by combined efforts from all the stakeholders and will help the farming community, consumers and the environment in the long-term. This coupled with punitive action against the spurious manufactures will lead to availability of more high quality products in the market benefiting farmers and consumers alike.