By Feyisara Eyiwumi Oni, Postdoctoral Scientist, Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology, Ghent University. IUPAC 2019 Next Generation Agri-Summit Participant
I grew up in a lively city in northern Nigeria, called Kaduna. Given that my mum has green fingers, we could manage to make some space for a vegetable and fruit garden. It was handy and so much fun to dash to the backyard, grab some spinach, tomatoes, okra, pawpaw, and bananas a few minutes before we needed them! Of course, it was a home garden – our crops grew year in and out without the need for fertilizers, chemicals or soil amendments. I grew up in a green environment – and my passion for crops was born!
For medium and large-scale agriculture, chemical usage is largely employed to ameliorate pests and diseases. Sadly, the use of chemicals to control pests and diseases have been largely linked to increased toxins and residues in the environment. For example, several studies correlated the astounding rise of male infertility and erectile dysfunction to increased pesticide use. Besides direct health concerns, routine chemical usage in crop protection has been shown to have attendant consequences in food poisoning and environmental pollution. In the past decades, a major setback for chemical usage is the development and increase in fungicide and pesticide resistance. This dilemma has further accelerated the search for crop protection alternatives or complements.
In recent time, we have witnessed a giant surge in the discovery, application and promotion of naturally-derived products. This is particularly driven by the low risk its application poses to the environment. Biopesticides/biofungicides have been reported to enhance soil health and beneficial microbial population. Formulation and manufacturing technologies are on the increase. Unique strains and species are being discovered. In the US for example, companies such as Marrone Bio Innovations have several commercially available lines and a rich product pipeline for biofumigant and bioherbicides. Many big companies are into science-based biological formulations including Syngenta, BASF, BayerCropScience, Novozymes, Monsanto, Du Pont, and Amvac, among others.
While chemicals and naturally-derived biologicals may have their pros and cons, it goes without saying that integrated crop protection is key. For every crop protection product present in the market, there may be a unique mode of action against a target organism. While a biological may not outcompete a chemical product, an integrated application of both products may boost crop protection. An added value in the integrated use of chemicals and biologicals is the capacity to reduce residues and delay resistance. A caution though: biologicals may not be used when pest populations are out of control or all else fails.
Bringing it all together, a holistic integrated crop protection management is a worthy pursuit. This would entail the employment of cultural tools, improved crop varieties, soil health management practices, incorporation of biologicals and moderate chemical usage – if necessary. On one hand, this will enhance the sustainable use of biologicals and on the other hand, reduce the risk of chemicals.
Feyisara Eyiwumi Oni is a postdoctoral scientist in the field of plant pathology and environmental microbiology at Ghent University, Belgium. She specializes in the characterization of Pseudomonas cyclic lipopeptides and their application in the biological control of plant pathogens. Besides the supervision of graduate students, she regularly attends conferences where she presents research results and engages in networking. She is a strong believer in the integrated use of natural products-derived biologicals in agriculture. Feyi enjoys singing and writing opinion pieces.