Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

A Private Sector Collaboration Keeps Pests at Bay, Partnerships Possible

This post is written by Sara Hendery, Communications Coordinator for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management. 

One of the tricks to building resilience against crop pests is adequately preparing for them, which is what one collaboration between a pheromone company and the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management has been achieving for over a decade.

Chemist K.R.M. Bhanu is a lead scientist and Assistant Vice President of Production at Biological Control Research Laboratories (BCRL) in Bengaluru, India. Bhanu produces pheromones of different agriculturally important insect pests. The use of pheromones in the field helps monitor, trap, and suppress pests, and has risen in popularity as the adoption of sustainable farming practices and a demand for high-value crops also grows.

BCRL’s relationship with the IPM Innovation Lab began in 2009 when BCRL was recruited as a program collaborator in India, developing pheromones for vegetable crops. Later, in 2013, the company assisted the IPM Innovation Lab with Tuta absoluta, a tomato pest with the potential to destroy 100 percent of crop yields.

One of the major advantages of pheromone traps is their ability to attract single species of an insect, which allows for timely detection of pest infestation and estimates of pest population density in a given area. Pheromone traps are also affordable, non-toxic, easy to manage, and help reduce insecticide use if multiple traps are implemented over time.

Over the last ten years, Bhanu has helped educate and administer pheromones to smallholder farmers in India and beyond in part due to her attendance at IPM Innovation Lab trainings.

“Chemical pesticides used to be perceived as the norm,” Bhanu said. “They supposedly yielded better results, both for pest controllers and end users. So the pioneering work that BCRL was doing with biopesticides and pheromones was not only ahead of its time, but also shaped the Indian pest control landscape into the industry it is today.”

In 2013, Bhanu attended a Tuta absoluta awareness workshop hosted by the IPM Innovation Lab in Ethiopia, where participants learned about biology, threat, and other factors related to the pest. Preparing for Tuta to reach India, the workshop positioned Bhanu to distribute pheromones for monitoring and suppression of the pest. In addition to India, she distributed pheromone lures to Nepal and Bangladesh ahead of the pest’s entry.

Bhanu also attended a Tuta awareness meeting in Vietnam in 2019, and has attended various symposia to share her experiences in the field. Based on leads from the IPM Innovation Lab, BCRL can manufacture and sample lures for testing and managing pests in the program’s participating countries.

“Being a part of the IPM Innovation Lab’s multi-national program has catapulted my understanding of the global pest control landscape,” Bhanu said. “It has also introduced me to insightful cultural crop protection practices from nations beyond my own… My collaboration with the program has been an extremely important networking exercise and has given me the opportunity to establish possible trade relations.”

Muni Muniappan, Director of the IPM Innovation Lab, said the program’s collaboration with BCRL is mutual and multi-functional, as is almost any collaboration with the private sector. Establishing regional relationships, connections, and business prospects is a major factor in helping to reduce future reliance on foreign aid.

Through a connection forged by the IPM Innovation Lab, BCRL is currently sending pheromone traps and lures to East Africa and South Asia to help farmers monitor and suppress the fall armyworm, a dangerous pest that has already caused billions of dollars in damage across Asia and Africa.

“Working with BCRL,” Muniappan said, “not only helps us to foster business prospects, but will assist us in getting in front of pests that could contribute to food insecurity and other issues for smallholder farmers.”