Crop damage due to insect pests is estimated be over 60 billion United States dollars annually. Entomopathogenic fungi are lethal pathogens of insect pests. They are occur naturally in soils and some occur as plant endophytes. Recent research indicates that entomopathogenic fungi also enhance plant growth, confer protection against plant pathogens and enhance plant adaptation to abiotic stresses such as drought. Unlike synthetic chemical pesticides, entomopathogenic fungi are not harmful to beneficial organisms such as pollinators, are safe to humans and the environment, can be integrated with other pest management measures, and can be mass produced at low cost. A number of entomopathogenic fungi are commercially available with both a broad and specific host range.
The use of entomopathogenic fungi as biological control agents is widely practiced in developed parts of the world especially the European Union, United States, Brazil and South Africa. However, in developing countries, such as Malawi, where there is high dependency on and higher risk of environmental pollution from synthetic pesticides use, the use of entomopathogenic fungi remains an untapped potential area. Identification of local species of entomopathogenic fungi, evaluating their efficacy against pests of tomato, onion and cabbage, and formulation of biopesticides based on the most effective entomopathogenic fungal species will contribute to sustainable crop protection in the horticultural sector in Malawi.
I started working on entomopathogenic fungi in 2016. For my postgraduate research thesis, I identified entomopathogens that occur in soils in sugarcane cropping systems in southern Malawi. I found two species namely Beauveria bassiana and Metarhizium anisopliae. These species are known to occur worldwide and kill a wide range of insect pests. However, I didn’t have enough time to conduct experiments evaluating the impact of these two entomopathogenic fungi against major crop pests in different environments and develop formulations.
In order to achieve sustainable tomato and cabbage production in Malawi, I will take the following steps:
- During the first year, the focus will be on collection and identification of species of entomopathogenic fungi from soil, plants and insects in tomato, onion and cabbage cropping systems and
- Evaluating the efficacy of the identified entomopathogenic fungi at both lab and farm level with the aim of establishing target pests and application rates.
- In the following years, I will focus on optimizing the formulations so that the entomopathogenic fungi remains viable for longer periods and that biopesticide products based on entomopathogenic fungi are officially approved and made available on the Malawi markets.
- Training of farmers on how to collect and mass produce the entomopathogenic fungi at household level used concepts I will adopt from oyster mushroom production
The main target beneficiaries of my project are farmers. Farmers and extension workers will be able to use the formulations of identified and evaluated entomopathogenic fungi for managing pests in their crops. The private sector and farmer research networks or field schools will be key stakeholders in the development of entomopathogenic fungal-based biopesticide formulation. The government through the agricultural technology clearing committee is an important stakeholder for getting approval of biopesticide to be formulated.
The potential outcomes from this project will be:
- Reduction in the amount of pesticides used by the target farmers on the target crops in different environments.
- Two or three virulent species of entomopathogenic fungi identified and target pests in tomato, onion and cabbage crops determined.
- Guideline for mass production and use of entomopathogenic fungal-based biopesticide(s) for management of pests in tomato, onion and cabbage crop developed.
- At least one entomopathogenic fungal-based biopesticide successfully formulated
- At least one entomopathogenic fungal-based product marketed approved and marketed as a biopesticide.
My project has a positive social impact. Farmers will acquire skills in identification and formulation of non-chemical pest control methods. Farmers can use the knowledge and training they will acquire from the project to start small-scale biopesticide production at community level.
Why am I passionate about the innovation or idea I am proposing
Malawi’s population is predominantly rural-based and the economy is highly dependent on agriculture. However, pest proliferation is a major limiting factor in improving the household food security. Growing up and having worked in the agricultural sector since 2010, I have noted that farmers in Malawi depend very much on chemical pesticides and there are few environmentally friendly alternatives to chemical pesticides approved for use in Malawi. Communities participating in my projects will have reduced exposure to harmful chemical pesticides.
Trust Kasambala, Malawi