In early 2021, the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and the Ministry of Marine Resources (MoMR) began pilot production of biofertilizers (BF) and biopesticides (BP) to transform the country’s Agriculture into eco-friendly farming. A technical committee was, then, established to guide these processes. To shed light on this issue, the Public Relations Division has conducted a short interview with Ms. Leula Mekonen, chair of the BP sub-committee.
Let’s start with the objective of the BP sub-committee.
Ms. Leula: The BP sub-committee is part of the national technical committee which was established to promote organic fertilizers and pesticides. Its ultimate goal is to produce healthy agricultural products and ensure public and environmental safety.
Generally, the MoA is promoting Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for sustainable crop-pest management and increased crop production. Promoting integrated pest management strategies is very crucial to addressing the problems caused by chemical pesticides. One of the IPM strategies to address the negative impact of chemical pesticides is, therefore, introducing and encouraging the use of BP in the country.
Q: How are these bio-pesticides prepared?
A: Broadly speaking, bio-pesticides are of two types; namely botanical and microbial. Botanical pesticides are naturally obtained from plant-based chemicals and are found to be effective alternatives to conventional pesticides. For instance, neem-based pesticides are one of the most important botanical pesticides widely used for agricultural pest management. Various botanical pesticides are also common in sustainable pest management practices, as they are generally safe for humans and the environment.
Q: Could you tell us about the progress of producing and piloting the BP?
A: So far, about 840 liters of neem, aloe, and chili pepper extract (botanical pesticides) have been produced; and distributed to four regions of the country for demonstration purposes in farmers’ fields. The plant materials, used as raw materials, are collected from different agro-ecological zones of the country. The collected neem leaves and seeds (from the lowland area) of Azadiracta indica are commonly practiced in many countries as effective bio-pesticides. It is important to note that a manual that includes preparation and application methods was also produced by the sub-committee. Furthermore, their shelf life and rate of application were studied at the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI).
Fig.1. Sample production of neem seed oil extract
Q: Could you brief us on the outcome of the study?
A: The study mainly focused on doses and shelf life of organic pesticides. The result is a bit technical and detailed but generally, the freshly extracted solution showed the highest score of efficacy compared to the one-month and two-month extracts. In the case of lettuce aphid, the one-month and two-month extracts showed similar results.
Moreover, based on the study conducted, the concentration of the neem leaf extract requires more quantity to cover a large area. Hence, the committee recommended neem, aloe & chili extract be used for pests in gardens and small farms size. Accordingly, the committee agreed to focus on neem seed oil extract for mass production. Currently, neem seed is being collected in four regions. So far, 3 quintals of neem seed have been collected and a sample of 29 kilos of neem seed was extracted to produce 3.5 liters of neem oil and 25 kg of neem cake. The extract will be used as a fungicide, insecticide, and acaricide. In addition, neem oil trial on potato disease and wheat rust is underway in Zoba Maekel. Neem cake is a by-product of neem oil extract which is used as insect repellant and fertilizer. Neem cake trial for tuber moth on potato stores will be carried out soon.
Q: How do you standardize the quality of organic products?
A: Technical experts from the Regulatory Services Department (RSD) are actively engaged in the technical committees to ensure the safety and quality of BP products. They have also produced a guideline for botanical biopesticide production for commercial purposes.
Q: How do you communicate this BP with farmers?
A: We distributed neem BP in four regions namely; Maekel, Debub, Anseba, and Gash-Barka. They were applied to different vegetables and were found to be effective in insect/pest control. The overall objective of the demonstration trial in the regions was to demonstrate the use of botanical pesticides for pest control with the principle of learning by doing in their field; and assist for easy adoption in their pest management practices. Moreover, continuous farmers’ training on the production and use of biopesticides is underway. All these are done by members of the committee coming from the different zobas.
Q: Do we use only neem as BP?
A: No. For that matter, we are trying a number of plant materials. For instance, prosopis (locally known as temri-musa) is widely found in the country; and can be used as an effective pesticide against fungi, bacteria, nematode, and insects using the leaf extract. The team collected prosopis juliflora leaves from Gahtelay, and 210 litres of prosopis extract were prepared. After some trials, promising results have been observed on insect pest control. Likewise, the Prosopis BP was applied to termites at Gejeret (the MoA compound); and it showed satisfactory results. Furthermore, oriental herbal nutrient (OHN) was produced from different spices like garlic, onion, and ginger extract. OHN is used to control powdery mildew (fungal disease), and acts as an insect repellant. Around 300 liters of extract of OHN was produced and applied on a potato field in Gashnashim to control cutworm infestation and was found to be effective. During the trial, the OHN was also found promising in controlling blight disease on potatoes; and trials are still underway to see the efficacy. Other plant materials are also under research if they can be used as organic pesticides.
Fig.2. Garlic (spice-based) BP production method
Q: We have discussed botanical pesticides. What about microbial pesticides?
A: Desert locust is one of the biggest threats to the country when it comes to pests. For that reason, a trial on indigenous entomopathogenic fungi Metarhizium acridinium which was identified and kept as Eritrean strain (ER1) in 1995 by NARI is being tested currently.
The subcommittee of bio-pesticide initiated to reactivate the reserved strain, and the strain has grown on wheat substrate successfully. An efficacy trial will be carried out against desert locusts and grasshoppers.
Fig. 3. Metarhizium culturing process – NAPHL laboratory
Q: What is the way forward with regards to scaling up these products?
A: The sub-committee is composed of relevant experts from various sectors, including the private sector. However, it is not the business of the experts to produce at a commercial scale. They are just producing effective bio-pesticides, and introducing them to farmers after proper trials. Hence, after properly introducing this organic product, the small and medium private enterprises are expected to take over producing and distributing the products to farmers.
Thanks, Ms. Leula