Biopesticides to Play a Critical Role in Pest Management in Future
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 lastdecade, biologicals have come to fore in agri-input and this is also evidentfrom the acquisitions/collaborations by global majors in crop protection of abiological companies e.g. Syngenta-Pasteuria Bioscience, BASF-Becker Underwood,Monsanto-Novozyme, Bayer-AgraQuest etc.
Some theobvious drivers for acquisitions/collaborations in biologicals space are:
(a) theincreasing cost of discovery of new chemical molecules
(b) stringencyof regulatory agencies to make sure that pesticides with minimal/no residues inenvironment (soil, air, water streams) or food chain are released for use, atleast in developed economies, leading to increasing cost of registrations of anew molecule.
The cost ofnew chemical crop protection product from discovery to market costs about $286million whereas, the launch of a new biological product cost $10 – $15 million.Moreover, the advances in biologicals sciences like decreasing costs of geneticsequencing of plant and soil microbiomes, advances in cost-effective,industrial-scale fermentation processes, and emergence of novel gene-editingand RNAi technologies are also playing their part in enticing most of globalinnovators to have a pie of the biopesticides cake in the global cropprotection industry.
The majorchallenge for biopesticides lies in marketing, Legacy farmers feel thatchemical pesticides are their best bet to tackle crop pests. The farmersperceive that:
(a)Biopesticides act slower than synthetic pesticides
(b) Theeffect of biopesticides on pest control is not visible immediately
(c) Thepresence of spurious products in the markets make it difficult for them toselect premium products
Farmers alsoget overwhelmed and confused with multiple biopesticide products available inthe market with no company registration number, the active ingredientsmentioned on the label and/or no address of the manufacturing company. The harmcaused by such products goes beyond just monetary losses and depressesconsumers’ confidence in biopesticides.
Despitethese challenges, the use of biopesticides is increasing, more so in developedeconomies like USA, Canada, European Countries, China, Taiwan, Australia, SouthKorea etc. In a country like India where agriculture is dominant force for theeconomy with 17.32% to GDP, there is an opportunity to promote the use ofbiopesticide products in agriculture which will lead to various benefits like(a) reduced chemical pesticide use (b) minimal or zero residues and concurrenthealth benefits.
Theeconomics of scale of operations from consumers’ point of view, governmentregulations, involvement of the industry and confidence among the end userswill play a major role in popularizing the usage. For Industry, the challengeswill be finding ways to
(a) Increasethe efficacy of the microbial activity,
(b) Improvethe shelf life,
(c) Enhanceddelivery systems,
(d) Broadhost range,
(e)Consistency in product performance in diverse field conditions.The regulatory authorities will have a veryprominent role to play in respective countries including India by changing theregulatory environment for biopesticides, which currently follow the same rulesand regulations as synthetic pesticides. It is imperative that separateregulations be framed for the registration, production and marketing ofbiopesticides to bring in more stringency to encourage the innovations byindustry and discourage spurious players. This can be achieved by combinedefforts from all the stakeholders and will help the farming community,consumers and the environment in the long-term. This coupled with punitiveaction against the spurious manufactures will lead to availability of more highquality products in the market benefiting farmers and consumers alike.