Biological control fulfills urgent need for sustainable pest management
Range of countries, technical partners share biocontrol research, options for insect pest control
03 June 2023, Nairobi Kenya – An extensive menu of biological control options to manage destructive invasive pests, including fall armyworm (FAW), and rich insights on the challenges and potential solutions for a worldwide scale up of the strategies were key outcomes from a global forum on urgently needed sustainable biological control measures.
Such measures offer a method of tackling pests and diseases using other living organisms and naturally-sourced compounds, such as insect predators and parasitoids.
More than 80 participants from over 30 countries, including researchers, government, extension agents, and private-sector partners joined the two-day ‘Global Forum on Biological Control’ that opened 26 June 2023 in Nairobi. The forum was co-organized by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe).
Speakers emphasized the urgency of the FAW crisis. The pest has caused annual yield losses of almost USD 9.4 billion in Africa alone, since it left its native areas in the Americas and began its rapid spread worldwide. Those yield losses translate into food shortages, nutritional insecurity, and threats to livelihoods of millions of people while driving up chemical pesticide use.
Extensive damage caused by FAW in affected countries and lack of effective management strategies have resulted in pesticide‐based emergency responses in many affected countries at an enormous cost in resources, environment, and human health.
“Since this notorious pest invaded Africa, icipe’s vision has been to provide farmers with science-led, context specific, affordable and environmentally friendly solutions for its management,” said Ms Segenet Kelemu, icipe Director General and CEO.
Key discussions of the two-day forum focused on how to organize and provide incentives for national research and development on biological control of FAW; commercialize and regulate biocontrol options; and extension and policy to enable scale-up of biocontrol measures.
Participants highlighted the necessity of strengthened research for development and dissemination of biocontrol technologies, including strategies to enable youth entrepreneurship. Discussions emphasized the need for financial, logistical and policy support from national governments in such areas as surveillance and monitoring of invasive pests; establishing repositories of biocontrol resources; and promotion of local production and use of biocontrol options.
The critical role of extension services and methods, such as farmer field schools, were also emphasized during the event, organized with support from the European Union, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
The forum was followed by a three-day hands-on training in arthropod natural enemies and how to mass rear these; and on microbial biopesticides, how to use and mass produce them.
Mr Xia Jingyuan, Director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division (NSP), emphasized the importance of FAO’s Global Action on FAW Control, which works across three regions and eight geographic zones where FAW has invaded. The Global Action has, since 2019, developed a well-functioning, highly successful co-ordination mechanism that enables experience-sharing and development of pest management techniques based on sustainable, biological approaches, he said.
“The Global Action mobilizes technical and financial resources to activate capacity enhancement across its target regions, and offers comprehensive, prevention, preparedness and biologically-based integrated pest management (IPM) packages,” said Mr Xia.
“These IPM packages emphasize proven, sustainable biological control that can include augmentative releases of natural enemies, microbial or botanical biopesticides for sustainable FAW management.”
Through extensive research on FAW’s behaviour and ecology in Africa, icipe has developed a climate-smart, agro-ecological management package that addresses the direct damage by FAW, as well as the range of obstacles affecting cereal production in Africa. The package integrates the icipe push–pull technology, which intercrops cereals with legumes and fodder grass; natural enemies; biopesticides and sex pheromones, said Ms Kelemu.
The icipe biopesticides, which are developed from strains of insect-infecting fungi, have been commercialised by private-sector partners. Alongside other icipe FAW management innovations, they are being used by farmers in various countries in Eastern and Southern Africa, where they are highly effective, she added.
Mr Abebe Haile-Gabriel, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative, FAO Regional Office for Africa, said that although biological control methods have been shown to be both efficacious and sustainable, adoption remains generally low.
“That is why this Global Forum on Biological Control is so important,” he said. “It has been convened for stakeholders to discuss progress and challenges, and to plan how to scale-up biocontrol measures against invasive pests such as FAW.”
Reviewing scientific publications on pest management from 65 countries in the Global South, Buyung Hadi, global coordinator of the FAW Secretariat in FAO, emphasized the sizeable number of biocontrol research outputs over the last decade. However, the level of adoption of biocontrol solutions in the same countries is not commensurate with the knowledge.
“Therefore, it’s important to think and act on the last mile delivery of biological control solutions and use all levers possible, including policy, extension and entrepreneurship, to scale up biological control in the Global South,” he said.
The emphasis on the need for stronger efforts to scale-up awareness of biological control, leveraging existing expertise and capacities and creating investments opportunities, was also a key theme during of an Eastern Africa technical consultation in Kampala, Uganda, 27-29 June 2023.
Thirty-five participants from national plant protection organizations, national research organizations, and several partners joined the subregional meeting organized by FAO and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Eastern Africa.
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