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News Story
1 April 2022

Possibilities and hurdles for biological plant protection in South African agriculture

Agricultural Biologicals workshop, Pretoria, January 2022

Photo: Sizwe Tyhali/Mahlodi Sathekge

Biologicals are potential alternatives to conventional agrochemicals to manage crop pests and pathogens. They are naturally derived products that can serve as biostimulants, biocontrol agents, resistance inducers or biofertilizers. Their use is steadily increasing in developed countries, leading to more environmentally sustainable plant protection methods. However, there is limited information on the status of biologicals in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where smallholder farmers to a large degree lead agricultural production.

“The perception is that biologicals are bringing more value to the soil”, Sello Ntshoesane, Klippan Farm

In January 2022, researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences organised a workshop on agricultural biologicals in Pretoria in collaboration with South African partner organisations.  The objective was to raise awareness about biologicals and better understand the status and use of these products in South Africa. The workshop provided a platform to discuss possibilities and hurdles for using biologicals in South African agriculture. The participants representing different stakeholder groups (farmers, policymakers, extension officers, private companies, and researchers) helped identify the possibilities and hurdles by commenting on the value chain of biologicals in South Africa and through a SWOT analysis.

Paving the way for increased use of biologicals 

Three invited speakers presented during the day. Andrew Bennett from SABO (South African Bioproducts Organisation) representing 47 members of both companies and universities in South Africa, told the audience how they were working to pave the way for increased use of biologicals in South Africa. He highlighted that the National Department of Agriculture, Land reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) regulations act 36 under which bioproducts in agriculture fall under is broad and that biologicals might benefit if this act were to be broken up into more specific ones.

“We need the biologicals to meet the existent set of control measures we have to maintain our high food productivity”, Andrew Bennett, SABO

SABO has established a code of ethics for the work with bioproducts. Professor Simon Letsoalo from the North-West University gave the participants an introduction to value chain analysis based on the framework of Professor Michael Porter whose theories are often used in this context. This led to a value chain analysis where the participants in groups looked at the biological markets in South Africa.

Group discussions centring around biologicals markets in South Africa

Photo: Sizwe Tyhali/Mahlodi Sathekge

Presentation of the group discussions

Photo: Sizwe Tyhali/Mahlodi Sathekge

Biologicals are more context-dependent than conventional plant protection

Johan van der Waal from the private company Real IPM presented their establishment into the biologicals market in Eastern Africa and now as a separate entity in South Africa. He stressed the importance of soil health and how IPM can be critical in preserving and improving it. Furthermore, he stated that biologicals are more context-dependent than conventional plant protection agents. For example, there is a clear difference between the insect populations in Europe and Africa. An equilibrium beneficial for the farmer can be established more easily in African agriculture because of the better-preserved biodiversity.

The Agricultural Biologicals workshop sponsored by SLU Global and SIANI took place in Pretoria on the 21st of January 2022. The workshop was organized by researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in collaboration with partners from AgriFoSe2030 (Agriculture for Food Security 2030), SABO (South African Bioproducts Organisation), University of Pretoria and The Agricultural Research Council (ARC).

Written by Erik Alexandersson, researcher at the Department of Plant Protection Biology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU).

Interview with Thabo Maseka | Farmer

Interview with Sello Ntshoesane | Klippan Farm

Interview with Andrew Bennett | SABO

Interview with Dr. Johan van der Waal | Real IPM

Introduction to plant biologicals value chain | Prof. Simon Letsoalo

South African Bioproducts Organisation Presentation | Andrew Bennett

Introduction to RealIPM | Dr. Johan van der Wall