Development and commercialization of the Green Muscle biopesticide
Boru Douthwaite1, Jürgen Langewald1, and Jeremy Harris2
1International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Nigeria
2CABI Biosciences, Ascot, Berkshire, UK
Locusts are the most feared pests of farmers living around the world’s major deserts. Millions of liters of environmentally damaging pesticides are sprayed over vast areas of land to control them and their grasshopper cousins. This paper tells the life history of the LUBILOSA (Lutte Biologique contre les Locustes et Sauteriaux) project, set up in 1989, and the development of a biological pesticide which kills locusts and grasshoppers without harming the environment. Commercial manufacture and real adoption has begun, although the benefits have yet to pay for the US$15 million spent on the project. The project has had some major spin-offs including the development of a similar biopesticide in Australia, and the development of biopesticides to control termites. Good science alone has by no means been the only ingredient of the success so far. One crucial factor has been the willingness of donors to provide funding for the 10 years of research and development often required to turn basic research into a useful product. A second factor is the early forging of partnerships between donors, several research institutes, national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), private sector companies, and farmers that has ensured that sufficient expertise was available when needed. A by-product of this collaboration is the creation of a "constituency of support" around Green Muscle® and it is this constituency which, more than anything, will determine the eventual impact and return on investment of the LUBILOSA project. This is because the eventual level of sales of Green Muscle depends on the correction of the market failure whereby the human and environmental health costs of spraying chemical pesticides are not charged to the purchaser. Policy change is required to correct this and it is in the constituency’s power to bring about this policy change. LUBILOSA project management and donors have shown themselves very aware of this reality by proposing and funding a "stewardship" phase for the project to both lobby the constituency and keep it together during the early adoption phase, as well as to ensure a seamless transfer of researcher knowledge about Green Muscle to the private sector manufacturers. The need for product "stewardship" or "championing" has long been recognized in the private sector but has been absent from a research world which has attempted, until recently, to separate "upstream" basic research from "downstream" adaptive research and extension. Product championing may well be essential for creating and cementing synergies between the public and private sectors and between scientific "knowledge" and practical "know-how".
Locust plagues have long struck fear into people because, when they descend, the destruction they wreak can be terrible. They "eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees" (Exodus 10 verse 15, King James version). The Bible records God sending "horrible" locust plagues as a vehicle of judgement not once but three times (Job, Exodus, and Revelation).
Locust plagues are so damaging because they can grow so big. The largest locust swarm this century was reported in Kenya in 1954 and covered more than 1000 km2, contained 40 000 million insects and weighed 80 000 tonnes. One tonne of locusts eats as much food in one day as about 2500 people (Steedman 1990).
Luckily, locust swarms are infrequent, occurring only when weather conditions favor the emergence of the nymphs and their survival and growth for successive generations. The last cataclysmic invasion in Africa began in 1986 and reached a peak in 1988 when swarms of desert locusts ranged from Mauritania and Senegal in the west to Iraq, Iran, and Kuwait in the east (US Congress 1990). Each year there is a locust infestation somewhere in the world (Rainey 1963). In 2000, western Australia’s wheat belt was ravaged by the worst infestation for 10 years while a swarm to equal that of 1954 in Kenya threatened to descend on three other states (The UK Guardian 28 April 2000). In 1999 a locust swarm invaded 8 million hectares in Kazakhstan and then moved into neighboring Russia (Lauria 1999). In Spain, the Moroccan locust, Diciostaurus maroccanus, has affected 500 000 hectares in recent years and outbreaks of the insect have also affected other Mediterranean areas such as Algeria, Crete, southern Italy, Morocco, Sardinia, and Turkey (Thomas 2000).
Although locusts grab the headlines, their close relatives - grasshoppers - probably do much more crop damage on average, year after year (Duranton et al. 1981). While locusts intermittently swarm, grasshoppers appear in crop-threatening numbers much more regularly. In fact, the spraying program that tackled the 1988 desert locust plague began in 1986 mainly against grasshoppers (Brader 1988). Nearly one-third of the money spent during the 1986 to 1989 campaign went on grasshopper control (Symmons 1992).
The main control measure against locusts and grasshoppers is to spray large areas with broad-spectrum pesticides to prevent the locusts from swarming, or to kill the swarms once they form. Huge volumes of chemicals can be sprayed on vast tracts of land. For example, between 1986 and 1989, donors and national governments spent US$200 million spraying 10 million hectares with 15 million liters of the broad spectrum insecticides fenitrothion and malathion (Symmons 1992). All the insecticides sprayed had some potentially negative environmental effects. They kill, as their labels suggest, a broad spectrum of insects and arachnids that are important to integrated pest management (IPM) in other systems (Lomer et al. 1997). Fenitrothion and malathion, both organophosphates, are still used today for locust control in Europe and Australia, although the Canadians stopped spraying fenitrothion to control spruce budworm in 1997 because it was found to kill birds (Canada Wildlife Service 1998). The pesticide also harms fish. During the desert locust spraying campaign, humans were poisoned as a result of improper handling and the practice of using empty pesticide containers for storing food and water (US Congress 1990).
Another environmental issue is that pesticide residue in crops or animal meat can cause importing countries to ban the produce. For example, Japan has rejected containers of Australian beef even with very low levels of residual pesticides (Milner 2000). Also, any pesticide spraying disbars land from qualifying as organic and prevents farmers from selling in this more lucrative market.
The cash cost of the damage to the environment and to human health of the 1986 to 1989 campaign was never calculated. However, the 1990 US Congress report questioned whether the costs of the chemicals sprayed even amounted to the amount of crop saved. The chemical, environmental, and human health costs, plus the contention by some observers that it was the strong winds that blew the locusts out into the Atlantic, and not the spraying, which ended the plague (L. Brader, pers. comm., 2000; US Congress 1990), led to some serious questions being asked about the economics of locust and grasshopper control programs. The US government, which had been the biggest donor, commissioned the US Congress Office of Technology Assessment to make a report, which ran to 132 pages. The report said that: "Overall, the results of locust and grasshopper control were disappointing" (US Congress 1990, p. 11) and that locust and grasshopper control measures needed to be changed in the future away from uneconomic crisis management by chemical spraying. However, they concluded that: "Research on alternatives (to chemical pesticides) … must be supported now if alternatives are to be available for future locust and grasshopper upsurges. Experts estimate that it may be 8 to 10 years before alternatives to insecticides are available for large-scale use" (US Congress 1990, p. 12).
As a result of the recommendations of the US Congress report, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) began supporting a program to develop a biopesticide against locusts based on the entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium anisopliae var. acridum. However, Canada and some of the European donors to the control of the desert locust plague had reached similar conclusions a year before the publication of the report. The LUBILOSA project was set up in 1989 to develop a biological means of controlling locusts and grasshoppers. At the beginning, the project involved the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau International (CABI) Bioscience in the UK, IITA, and Department de Formation en Protection des Vegetaux (DFPV) in Niger. CABI has managed the project but the technical project leader has been an IITA employee based in Benin since 1992, when LUBILOSA began small-scale field trials. By the end of Phase 3, the number of collaborators had increased to include Comité Inter-État de Lutte contre la Sécheresse au Sahel (CILSS), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) in Germany, and two private companies, Biological Control Products (BCP) in South Africa and Natural Plant Protection (NPP) in France. Funding has come from the governments of Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the US, and the UK. In the first 10 years, the LUBILOSA project has spent US$15 million and produced an environmentally benign alternative to chemical pesticides that has already been used in extensive ground and aerial spraying campaigns in Mali and Niger (Douro-Kpindou et al. 1997; Langewald et al. 1999). Demonstration trials and farmer participatory trials have been conducted in most Sahelian countries in collaboration with the national programs (Maiga et al. 1999). A project in Australia has used LUBILOSA research data to develop a biopesticide against Australian locusts (Milner 2000). A company is licensed to manufacture the biopesticide, which has been registered in South Africa under the name Green Muscle®. Nevertheless, although no attempt has yet been made on the internal rate of return of this investment, most of the project stakeholders and donors believe that it would be negative at this stage. This consortium of donors has recently funded a fourth phase to "steward" the LUBILOSA biopesticide to higher adoption rates and greater impact.
LUBILOSA is a multidonor, multi-institution, multicountry project with strong public–private sector partnerships that has carried out strategic, cutting-edge research and developed a product that has been picked up by the commercial sector. As such LUBILOSA may well be a template for much more of the activities of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in the future. Hence an analysis of the impacts that LUBILOSA has had, could have in the future, and how this impact has and can be achieved, can teach us a great deal about public–private partnerships and the management of impact-focused research.
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