CABI calls for collaboration to boost use of biocontrol

CABI Executive Director for Global Operations, Dr Ulrich Kuhlmann, has called for more collaboration between the public and private sectors to encourage the use of biological controls by smallholder farmers to tackle damaging pests.

Biological control (sometimes known as biocontrol) is the use of living organisms, such as insects and pathogens, to manage and reduce the population of unwanted pests. Crop pests are a major problem for farmers and rural communities in developing countries, reducing crop yields and threatening food security. An estimated 40% of crops are lost each year to pests.

Presenting the Monday night keynote address at the 12th Annual Biocontrol Industry Meeting (ABIM) in Basel, Switzerland (23-25 October 2017), Dr Kuhlmann explained that while the number of biological control agents and products available to farmers is greater than ever, the use of these products in comparison to other control methods such as pesticides is still very low. In fact biocontrol products account for only 5% of the global plant protection market.

As a pest management tool biocontrol has advantages over conventional methods such as pesticides and herbicides. It is highly specific (the control agent targets only the pest in question), requires little ongoing human intervention, and is sustainable and environmentally friendly. For these reasons the use of biocontrols by farmers as part of an integrated pest management system is considered best practice.

One of the steps required for the use of biological control agents by farmers is their recommendation by extension services. A baseline study analysed the extension material developed within CABI’s Plantwise programme and advice given by extension workers relating to the management of insect pests using biocontrol products in three African and three Asian countries. It points out factors that affect the uptake of biological control agents by extension services.

“Information and communication is key,” explained Dr Kuhlmann. “Currently, information about available biocontrol products is not always communicated to farmers, and is even more rarely recommended. This may be due to limited availability of the products themselves, or perhaps their perceived high cost, but it may also reflect a lack of knowledge among extension services as to the benefits of biocontrols.

“Tackling poverty and improving food security is a global goal for us all. Increasing the use of biocontrol agents is an environmentally sustainable strategy which can help rural populations be more productive and economically secure, opening the door to improved health, education and quality of life. That’s why we’re calling for governments, private companies and industry bodies, to develop biocontrol subsidy schemes, training and information for extension workers on biocontrols, and to facilitate better access to more affordable biocontrol products for farmers.”

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