Adam's Weekly Blog
Saving our crops
We already farm most of the good land we have and increasingly, we’re...
We already farm most of the good land we have and increasingly, we’re doing it with high yielding crops. Yet we still need more food.
The ‘Green Revolution’ of the last century employed technology to boost agricultural production worldwide. Now there are calls for an Evergreen Revolution, where we use science to boost food production in a way that is sustainable, and doesn’t harm the environment.
Every year, one third of the food and crops we produce globally is lost or wasted. This is food that could feed two billion people and is a one trillion dollar problem.
Insects of all varieties can cause us huge problems in our global crop cycles. I went to ICIPE in Kenya where they’re learning, not just how to control insects, but how these creatures can actually benefit mankind.
The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi is a major research institute for bugs and how they impact our food security.
The director general is Segenet Kelemu. She told me how they are trying to understand the physiologies, the ecologies and the behavior of the insect.
Take fruit flies. This pest costs African farmers more than two billion dollars a year, devastating crops like mangoes. These flies are already resistant to commonly used synthetic pesticides.
Here they’re cultivating a natural parasite that grows on the fruit fly, killing them. The aim is to commercialize this form of biological control, which is also environmentally safe.
While ICIPE is using a type of a fungus to fight pests, another company, Eden Research, is developing plant extracts – essential vegetable oils to tackle bugs. Eden Research is creating a new generation of so called bio-pesticides.
Conventional pesticide is a bit more like a sledge hammer. They do the job, but they are a bit brutal and crude. They believe their approach is more precise and less harmful to the environment.
Their company is focused on the development of terpenes. And terpenes are actually active molecules which plants themselves produce as a defense mechanism.
They claim to be among the first people to harness their power, because one of the inherent challenges of using terpenes is that they are very volatile. That means that if you spray them on a field they evaporate quite quickly.
So their real innovation was an encapsulation system that harnesses and packages them all up, actually in a biological product itself, and delivers them in a sustained and controlled way.
Rain triggers the cells to release their bio-pesticide, rain also brings out more bugs and makes fungi and bacteria grow.
Therefore the pesticide is only active when the pests are too. It means the chemical lasts longer on the crop. By using synthetic pesticides, they have to wait 14 days before they can harvest the crop. Waiting for residues to dissipate, the beans can go to seed. With bio-pesticides they start picking the next day. A lot less is wasted.
The amount of food we lose each year to pests, diseases and general waste is staggering. But in this program we’ve seen how new innovations, new technologies, are helping us to produce more food and to preserve it in a better way.