Workshop Report

Experiment Station Committee on Policy - Biological Control Working Group (ESCOP-WGBC) and Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey

About this report...

Alternative Paradigms for Commercializing Biological Control is a report of a workshop co-organized by the Experiment Station Committee on Policy - Biological Control Working Group (ESCOP-WGBC) and The Rutgers University, May 31 -  June 2, 1998, Hyatt Regency Hotel, New Brunswick, New Jersey.  Aspects of this report are adapted from a summary paper presented by Dr. Jeff Waage, CABI Bioscience, Silwood Park, UK, at the close of the workshop.  The Action Plan represents a collaborative effort by all workshop attendees.  For further information on the workshop including abstracts of presentations and raw data from breakout sessions, visit the workshop website at:   http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~insects/biopesticides.htm

Charge to participants
Biopesticides are at a crossroads.  The early vision of biologicals becoming significant pest management tools for major row crops has faded in this decade.  No foreseeable new technology, including genetic engineering, is likely to change this reality.  In the next decade, biologicals will either begin to play a meaningful role in specialty crops or become a curiosity relegated to organic farming.  Industry, growers, extension, and researchers must come together and think “outside the mold” to realize the former.

Lincoln once wrote:  “The dogmas of the past are inadequate to the present.  The occasion is piled high with difficulty; and we must rise with the occasion.  As our case is new, so must we think anew, and act anew.”  Or, with apologies to Apple Computer:  Think Different!  Our charge is to think risk taking, think unconventional, but above all think of new paradigms for biological control.  

Workshop Sponsors:

 

CONTENTS

Introduction

Objectives

Background

Perceiving the problem...

Addressing current problems...

Defining a new paradigm...

 

Action steps to foster a new paradigm…
Academic committees such as ESCOP-WGBC can promote a new paradigm by…

 

Continuing to foster a new paradigm...

The future of biological crop protection...

Participants

Introduction

The existing paradigm for commercializing biological pesticides has met with limited success.  Enthusiasm for biological pesticides as environmentally benign alternatives to chemicals resulted in a flush of start-up biopesticide companies in the 1980s.  However, the expected surge in demand for biologicals arising from increasing environmental awareness failed to materialize, and many companies have either downsized, disappeared, or refocused their efforts.  Currently, biopesticides capture a mere 1.4% or $380 million of the $28 billion dollar global market for pesticides; and natural enemies and antagonists (including microbials, predators, parasitoids) comprise only $164 million of the $8 billion dollar insecticide market.  Indeed, if Bacillus thuringiensis endotoxins are regarded as chemicals, then the contribution from true biologicals shrinks to $72 million dollars.  Today, biologicals have been relegated almost exclusively to specialized, high value niche markets, but even this role is being reduced through competition from transgenic plants and a new generation of "environmentally-friendly" pesticides.  If the fundamental mission of biologicals is construed to be the continued reduction of chemical pesticide use then they are clearly not achieving their desired goal.  

At least in part, the under utilization of biopesticides can be attributed to the current paradigm governing their development and commercialization.  This paradigm is based on a chemical pesticide model that emphasizes major crops and focuses on cheap, stable products that are easy to scale-up and use.  Biological control agents rarely fit this model but have important advantages in terms of human safety and environmental friendliness, and are inexpensive to register relative to chemical products. It seems apparent that if the development and use of biological pesticides is to flourish then there is a critical need for new strategies that will overcome their inherent production, formulation, and distribution problems.  Indeed, the fate of biological pesticides in the foreseeable future rests on the development of an alternative paradigm for their development and commercialization, one that is based on biological, industrial, and grower realities. 

Objectives

The overall objective of the workshop was to bring together representatives from industry, government, universities, and the grower community to focus attention on the need to develop a new mindset for the commercial development and use of biological pesticides, and to discuss the means and mechanisms for achieving this goal.  Specifically, the objectives of the workshop were to:

Background

The current demand for biological control products has arisen in large part because of problems that have developed from the use of chemical pesticides.  These problems include resistance, pest resurgence, environmental pollution, and risks to human health. In North America, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) sought to establish economic thresholds to limit interventions against pests and to introduce alternatives to synthetic chemical pesticides including arthropod natural enemies, biopesticides, attractants and botanicals. This technological, product-based approach to IPM differs somewhat from that seen in other parts of the world. In Asia, widespread pesticide use on rice followed the introduction of new high yielding varieties and led to outbreaks of pests. The IPM solution to this problem downplayed technological interventions in favor of conservation of local natural enemies, and focused on farmer participation. As this farmer-participatory IPM spread into new crop systems in Asia, Africa and Latin America, it again encountered the need for interventions where local natural enemies were not effective. At present, much of the production of biologicals in tropical regions is restricted to plantation industries and collectivized farming systems that produce predators, parasitoids and pathogens for augmentation.  In Europe, IPM developments are driven more by environmental than agricultural strategy, with countries like Sweden, Netherlands and Denmark legislating a reduction in pesticide use by 50% by the year 2000. These political decisions are expected to improve markets for Europe's relatively mature biocontrol businesses and to move them far beyond their present focus on glasshouse systems.  These developments reflect a broad international movement toward environmentally friendly crop protection.

Perceiving the problem...

The growing national and international commitment to IPM has been expected to lead to growing demand for biologicals for pest management. However, over the past thirty years, growth in both the supply and the demand for biologicals has been disappointing. Market share remains small, widely available products are few, and most new products have relatively short half lives. The apparent failure of biologicals to realize their potential has several explanations. 

Firstly, the political interest in IPM has not translated itself into markets for IPM products. While support for biologicals has come from researchers and regulators, there has been no powerful economic force driving deployment of biologicals except in crisis situations where pesticide treadmills have created specific markets.  

Secondly, industry has failed to bring products to market. Governments, international organizations, and farming communities have looked to the pest control industry, especially multinational agrochemical companies, to lead development and implementation of biologicals. Many companies have invested in research and development of biologicals to manage resistance problems in their chemical product range, to increase the perception of environmental friendliness, because of the potential profit from these products or associated proprietary technologies, and to develop expertise related to the development of transgenic crops that could enable a shift to biotechnology from crop protection. However, ultimately, biologicals have not proven to be effective competitors with chemical products either in the boardroom or in the marketplace, due in part to comparative cost, income prospects, ease of handling, and extension.

Another promising initiative in the development of biologicals was the formation of numerous smaller companies focusing on producing biological or biotechnological products in anticipation of markets in crop protection. These small companies picked up promising products and received considerable venture capital investment but many failed to deliver sustainable products. One reason for the failure of these initiatives was over-investment, which demanded much larger markets for these products than they could realize. Ironically, many of these businesses might have been sustainable at a lower level of investment and sales, at least in the high-value horticultural crop market.

Underlying the failure of biologicals to realize their potential is a more fundamental problem: the persistence of a chemical paradigm for pest control products that undervalues biologicals and undermines their development.  The chemical paradigm expresses itself most clearly in statements on what is necessary for products to be competitive. Compared to chemical pesticides, biologicals generally fail in areas such as speed of kill, storage, range of targets, ease of use, distribution, and cost. Clearly, biologicals are not effective chemicals. However, some of these arguments appear more illusory than real. For example, the claim that farmers will only accept quick-acting products like chemical insecticides and will not wait for an insect pathogen to kill over a few days contrasts with the widespread acceptance of slow-acting herbicides. More generally, arguments formulated on what the farmer "wants", ignores the fact that the crop protection market has been supply driven for many years. Only recently, through innovative programs of farmer participation in IPM, are farmers beginning to play their deserved role in the development of products.

Furthermore, the chemical paradigm goes beyond considerations of the desirable properties of products and involves the continuing problem of moving biologicals through extension and regulatory systems that have been molded over time for the movement of chemical products. With respect to regulation, biologicals face the paradox of often having lower efficacy than chemical competitors in terms of direct killing power, but of being better IPM products by virtue of this very attribute since they conserve natural enemies. Many registration systems fail to address this issue fully. Moreover, the chemical paradigm also reflects a bias in social values evident in the pharmaceutical and related industries toward quick and simple drug-like curative measures as an alternative to a more holistic, preventative approach.  The latter is clearly more appropriate to biological products.

Perhaps the most profound impact of the chemical paradigm on biologicals is to marginalize those properties that make them superior to chemicals, specifically their capacity as living organisms to reproduce, persist and spread (ecologically, their numerical response).  Thereby, their impact is potentially much greater than their original killing action (their functional response). The selection of agents for their killing power only is epitomized by the commercial development of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) relative to other pathogens that survive and reproduce better in crop environments (e.g., fungi, viruses).  In a chemical paradigm, these properties are seen as potentially disadvantageous to commercial prospects since they could reduce sales. Nonetheless, there are commercially successful products sold into agroecosystems where self-replication and spread is a desirable property, namely many seeds and plants. Similarly, the fact that demand for biologicals may decline as natural enemy populations recover from years of chemical pesticide use also can be seen as a disadvantage commercially when considered according to a chemical paradigm rather than as a positive attribute of a different kind of product. Bt, for example, plays an important role in recovery associated with pesticide treadmills in vegetable systems around the world. In this case, it might best be viewed as an environmental remediation product, perhaps transient in nature, but with a continuing small demand in restored systems.

We are today at a unique historical juncture. Demand for IPM is increasing but the systems from which we have anticipated IPM products have failed to deliver. Hence, the significance of this workshop is clear - a new paradigm is quickly needed, and champions for that paradigm must be found. 

Addressing current problems...

In addressing current problems, the workshop identified two ways forward.  These are not so much alternatives as they are complementary approaches. The first involves continuing to move biologicals through the present chemically-focused system, changing that system in the process. The second, the major focus of this workshop, involves developing an entirely new paradigm for biologicals, a paradigm linked to trends already apparent in current IPM.

The former process can be illustrated with two examples. Sales of Bt account for the vast majority of the sales of biologicals worldwide. However, as currently developed, Bt is not so much a biological control product as it is a chemical toxin delivered in a protein pill, which gives it a desirable level of persistence and possibly specificity. Nonetheless, its development has had a substantial impact on public acceptance of biological control, on development of positive regulatory systems, and particularly on IPM. In certain tropical regions, Bt has become a critical component of IPM systems that involve conservation of specific parasitoids, augmented by Bt sprays when pest populations are high. Without Bt, such IPM systems would be difficult to implement.

Another example involves the LUBILOSA program in Africa that has developed a myco-insecticide for control of locusts and grasshoppers. Beyond its direct impact on locusts, this product, referred to as "Green Muscle" after the green muscardine fungus, Metarhizium anisopliae, is having an important impact on African pest management.  It is breaking new ground in registration and use of biologicals, and undermining one of the pillars of African pest management, namely the concept that chemical pesticide stocks must be maintained to deal with migratory pest populations.

Defining a new paradigm...

This workshop has contributed to the elaboration of a new paradigm for commercial biological control. Although this paradigm is still in its formative stages, four of its likely components emerged from presentations and discussion.  In developing a new paradigm, it will be necessary to:

1. Exploit the advantages of living products. Biologicals have advantages over chemicals in that they are capable of reproducing, spreading, and having a lasting impact on agroecosystems.  A new paradigm should focus more on the inoculation of biological agents and the encouragement of their reproduction and spread.

2. Develop imaginative product concepts. Under a new paradigm, packaged, registered products on the shelf are merely one method of delivering biologicals, and probably not the best. Local natural enemies, locally produced, and returned to the crop ecosystem are perhaps best viewed as plant growth promoters rather than pest control agents.  As such, they are analogous to mulches and manures that create the right balance of nutrients and microflora and fauna. Novel commercial systems such as on-farm production of complexes of beneficial soil bacteria, delivered to the crop through irrigation systems, move us away from a product focus to a process focus, and thereby break with the chemical paradigm that natural enemies must be centrally produced and delivered to the farmer. Similarly, the introduction of commercially-produced natural enemies that enhance the action of local natural enemies (e.g., a biopesticide spray in a field crop) gives a new meaning to the concept of what constitutes the product. Finally, in a biological control context, knowledge is itself a product, if it allows the farmer to make on-farm biological control agents more effective in controlling pests through strategies such as the creation of refuges and the adoption of specific cropping practices.

3. Be knowledge-intensive and farmer-engaged. In an IPM context, biological control products complement natural control. Their use and effectiveness depends on the level of natural control in a particular field, and observations on when augmentation is needed rather than on a calendar-based, prophylactic basis. Thus, farmers are key elements of successful IPM and engaged in regular observation, decision making, and the conservation of natural enemies. Consequently, biological products in a new paradigm are knowledge-intensive and require that farmers understand their crop ecosystems and the dynamics of their arthropod inhabitants, both good and bad. Under various circumstances, this local IPM expertise might be held by the farmers themselves as a result of farmer field school training, or it might be held by a local crop protection officer or consultant.

4. Make Biocontrol businesses local or regional, and of medium scale. Lessons from the multinational agrochemical industry and venture capital businesses have revealed that successful biologicals will not be developed in businesses which force them to be more successful than markets allow in order to meet high overhead costs or returns on investment. Appropriately-scaled businesses serving local markets will gain advantages in their relevance to local IPM systems, in speed of delivery, distribution and extension support, and in the reduction of storage problems. Community-based biocontrol businesses already thrive in certain commodities such as citrus in California and South Africa, and sugar cane in Asia and Latin America. The farm sector has considerable advantages as a base for business because of the local abundance and relatively low cost of the key ingredients to the production of biologicals (i.e., plants, pests, natural enemies, fermentation substrates, labor). Indeed many successful biological control businesses have grown out of farming businesses (e.g., the European glasshouse industry). The concept of local production and distribution of biologicals within the farming sector, backed by centralized support for research and development, regulation and promotion, perhaps through a franchising system, emerged strongly from workshop discussions.

From these four elements, a new paradigm of pest management could emerge, linked closely to the principles of IPM. It will need fostering, in the face of the continuing chemical paradigm and the systems that this controls. How can this best be accomplished?

Action steps to foster a new paradigm...

The realization of a new paradigm will require the active involvement and coordinated efforts of a broad range of participants in the agricultural enterprise.

Academic committees such as ESCOP-WGBC can promote a new paradigm by...  

Governments and their agencies at various levels can contribute to a new paradigm  by...

Universities can contribute by...

The private sector can facilitate a new paradigm by... 

Growers can contribute to a new paradigm by...

Continuing to foster a new paradigm...

A major bottle-neck to the development of a new paradigm is the creation of viable, small-scale and local businesses to supply and support products in the farming sector. Government support and incentives to small business development, either directly or through assistance for research and development or product subsidies, or insurance for farmers using products, might provide the greatest support to the development of a new paradigm. One of the key problems for small biocontrol products in the past has been the lack of effective distribution and support systems at the farm level.  This is another area where enhanced support might help to kick-start successful commercial enterprises.

Development of a new paradigm for commercial biological control must acknowledge and make use of other paradigm shifts. One of the most important is the change today in the forces driving IPM from the public to the private sector. We see today a growing interest in the food industry, including retail supermarkets, grower cooperatives and large food companies, to adopt IPM as a means of minimizing risk and as a marketing advantage with environmentally and health-conscious consumers. Through certification systems for growers and "green" product schemes of retailers, IPM is gaining an economic value in the marketplace and demanding a premium. The role of the organic food industry in generating this demand has been great, despite its very small market share and potential conflicts with an IPM approach.

The shift of IPM development from the low power, pushing forces of traditional, publicly-supported systems of research and regulation to the high-power pulling forces of privately-supported systems like the retail food industry and the consumers it serves has profound implications. Reduction of chemical use will be a growing issue, as will consumer awareness and involvement in food products and their production. Vertical integration of the food industry from farm to consumer may facilitate biological product systems by creating large local demand by farmers for biological methods recommended by food retailers or by certified integrated production systems under which labeled products are sold at a premium. The biological pest control industry should anticipate this trend.

The future of biological crop protection...

From this workshop emerges a vision of future crop protection which involves more than putting benign biological products into the current crop protection machine. That machine is clearly in need of overhaul. From its reconsideration arises a new paradigm for biological products in crop protection, one that is profoundly ecological in its focus on self-perpetuating, low cost systems, and profoundly social in its reliance on local and regional processes and farmer participation. Hopefully, this workshop has provided impetus for the development of this new paradigm.

Participants

Return to Biocontrol Workshop Homepage

Return to Rutgers Entomology Homepage