Thursday, March 14, 2013


Looking at the frenetic pace at which many of the established chemical pesticide manufacturers are investing in bio-control creatures with a capacity to kill common pests like grasshoppers give one the impression that they have genuinely concerned about the dangers posed by their diverse portfolio of chemicals used by millions of farmers all over the world. This is a wrong guess because their consideration is totally different. Having read the writing on the world regarding the rising resistance to chemical pesticides by farmers and consumers alike, they really want to see whether alternate options are available that will be acceptable to all the stake holders. Also in their mind is the vision that their existing chemical pesticides can work more effectively and at lesser levels to counteract many vectors that affect crops like Corn, Soy and others. Though the present share of such bio-pesticides, if one call them by that term, is a meager 3% of the 44 billion pesticide market, this is bound to increase exponentially once the range of new bio-pesticides is expanded through more developmental efforts. Here is a commentary on this interesting development which can have some beneficial impact in the long run.     

"The global crop-protection industry is dominated by agrochemical companies such as Syngenta (SYT),Monsanto (MON), and Bayer CropScience. It's also dominated by awesome, crime-fighting bugs (note: that is not the technical term). With U.S. and European Union regulators, not to mention supermarket chains, toughening their stance against traditional pesticides, Basel-based Syngenta is now breeding and selling fly-munching mites, caterpillar-killing wasps, and "premium quality" bees in bulk to help farmers find chemical-free solutions to crop damage. Monsanto, the biggest developer of genetically modified crops, is engineering naturally occurring molecules to help kill weeds, insects, and plant viruses. At Marrone Bio Innovations, founded in 2006 and based in Davis, Calif., a new product called Zequanox, made from a common microbe, is proving an effective killer of the zebra and quagga mussels that clog factory and power generator pipes. "You can save a lot of money when you don't need to stop a factory" to turn back the freshwater invaders, says Pamela Marrone, the start-up's founder and chief executive officer, who has a Ph.D. in entomology".

One of the earliest bio-pesticides known is Bacillus thuringensis which became a pawn in the hands of the GMO companies to evolve many crops including Cotton through transgenic technology which are supposed to be resistant to attack by some of the established pests encountered by the farmers. It was only recently that India denied permission for introducing Bt Brinjal from one of the transnational companies into the country because of real apprehensions regarding the consequences on environment and the natural gene pool available in domestic Brinjal. Concept-wise Bio-control agents can be an excellent tool if properly harnessed and carefully used after going through a SWOT analysis to understand the benefits and risks thoroughly.  A larger question that bugs many honest people is whether such developments should be left in the hands of profit-centered private multinational companies which use the intellectual property provisions to bottle them up without sharing their results and products with farmers of third world? There are excellent public funded farm research organizations with national as well as international reputation which must be strengthened to take up such work and results from these agencies can be made available to farm communities globally.  


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