How can biocontrol promote plant health?

A farmer harvesting peppercorn in Malaysia. Credit: CABI©

Today marks Plant Health Day, which aims to raise awareness of how protecting plant health can help address some of the world’s biggest issues. Plant health is currently under threat, but it can be promoted and maintained with the correct knowledge and use of biocontrol and biopesticide products.

Why is plant health important

Plants globally account for 80% of human food consumption, according to the FAO, and are the main source of nutrition for livestock. Healthy plants ensure the quality and safety of crop production, which is the basis of countless people’s livelihoods.  

“Plants are the foundation for all life on Earth. Improving plant health is key to feeding the growing global population as well as supporting economic development around the world,, said Ulrich Kuhlmann, Executive Director, Global Operations at CABI.

Healthy plants not only produce good quality food but are robust when it comes to external stresses, such as environmental changes and pest attacks.

Plant health is a driver of food security and is also critical for the general health of the environment.

Plant health is under threat

Pests are one of the most serious threats to plant health. The FAO estimates that 40% of crops are lost yearly to pests. This poses a major risk to our food security.

Pest pressure will likely increase due to climate change. Temperatures are predicted to rise, and this will have a significant impact on the biology of pests. For example, the life cycle of insect pests will shorten and there will be more pest generations per crop season, which means more crop damage. With climate change also comes extreme environmental events. Unhealthy plants are less able to withstand these events and as a result more crops will be lost.  

Therefore, maintaining plant health is vital so plants can be better armed against pests and other environmental stresses, ensuring sustainable food production.   

Farmer scouting his crop for pests following an Integrated Pest Management approach . Credit: CABI©

What can we do to protect plant health?

One of the most efficient ways to protect and maintain plant health is to use safer pest control methods.

Reliance on conventional pesticides threatens plant health in the long run, eventually making plants more vulnerable to pests and environmental stresses. Chemicals can greatly damage the environment, harming the natural biodiversity that surrounds and supports plant growth. Chemicals can also weaken the soils, destroying and disrupting the natural soil microbiology, which is fundamental to healthy plant growth. 

Using safer alternatives such as biopesticides and biocontrol products is a good way to protect the environment and, thus, plant health. For example, some bioprotection products are specific to their target pests, others are inert or degrade naturally, making them less harmful to beneficial organisms with no lasting impact on biodiversity. This is in stark contrast to some of their more toxic chemical counterparts. 

Integrated Pest Management is another safer approach that helps the crop system become more robust and healthier. This approach focuses on the use of sustainable pest management approaches such as pest prevention, biocontrol and cultural measures that do not have such adverse effects on the environment. The judicious use of lowtoxicity chemical pesticides is permitted within IPM, but only as a last resort.

Environmental health and plant health go hand in hand. Using environmentally friendly products to control pests can help maintain plant health. In return, healthier plants are more efficient at facing pest pressure and can support sustainable food production. 

Participate in maintaining plant health and browse the CABI BioProtection Portal to find bioprotection products in your country!