UK-China Agritech Challenge: Environmentally Benign Combination Biopesticides - Transforming Pest Control in Chinese and UK Agriculture

Lead Research Organisation: University of Greenwich
Department Name: Natural Resources Institute, FES


Environmentally benign fungal pathogens and naturally insecticidal plant extracts could offer a sustainable alternative to synthetic chemical pesticides. Fungal control does not have many of the problems associated with conventional control such as pest resistance, toxicity to humans and persistence in the environment. One downside to such a technology is that it can be slow acting to achieve effective control. The aim of this project is to create a formulation combining fungal pathogens with the pesticidal plant extracts to create effective pest control with two non-synthetic control agents. This solution will be applicable in developing countries such as China where the materials can be locally produced. Creating a new product with these technologies may confer additional benefits as the modes of action may work in synergy to achieve greater pest control with less material required. Additional benefits to using these biopesticides would be the stimulation the growth of this market, provision of safer working conditions, creating job opportunities and allowing local growers to receive a greater return for their produce by conforming to EU regulations on pesticide use. We anticipate that this will have considerable benefits for the ecosystems in which they are applied due to reduced impacts on non-target insects such as pollinators.
From a scientific and cultural perspective this would open-up opportunities for other pathogen-botanical extract formulations to be developed and increase awareness of alternative solutions in pest control, encouraging growers and industry to move away from synthetic chemical control.

The project will involve laboratory testing of the plant extracts and fungal pathogens for potentially synergistic, antagonistic or additive effects when controlling pest populations, formulated blends of plant extracts with the fungal pathogen in a concentration identified as effective in laboratory assays and field testing on crops in China. In field and laboratory testing the incidence of target pests, damage caused and the impact on beneficial insects (i.e. pollinators and natural enemies of the pests) will be monitored.

A report will be prepared with a plan for future research required and a plan for the exploitation of this new technology. The project will be a collaboration between the Natural Resources Institute and Eurorganic Ltd in the UK and Fujian Agriculture & Forestry University and Jiangxi Tian-Ren Ltd in China.

Planned Impact

The project will deliver positive economic, environmental and social impact. The primary beneficiaries of this action will be farmers who will profit from reduced pest control input costs through lower quantities of pesticide applied less frequently. This will impact investment reducing annual costs but maintaining crops yields. Agriculture is crucial in China which ranks 1st in the world for farm output producing 20% of the world's food and employs over 300 million farmers so China's agriculture sector provides a vast market opportunity for our innovation. Our target crops, brassicas, strawberries and tea are grown on over 20 million Ha but could our innovation is relevant to other crops in China too for which the arable land area is 1 million km2. Importantly the average land holding is less than 1 hectare so economic benefits will be to address poverty and food insecurity. The innovation will have immediate benefit to some farmers but potentially lead to a step change in Chinese food production. Our target farmers are small holders and larger scale growers of nutritional and economic importance benefitting livelihoods and consumers. Farmers will benefit from effective pest control with reduced environmental and human health impacts associated with synthetic pesticides. The product will reduce pest damage and crop loss but not impede export to the UK and Europe where restrictions on permitted pesticide might limit food imports. Purveyors of fruits and brassicas in the UK will benefit from a more sustainable supply, and UK consumers will benefit from a higher quality product.

Pyrethrum producers and industry partners will benefit directly through increased markets for new products and the rejuvenation of the global market for natural alternatives to synthetic pesticides. Industrial partners will benefit through increased income from market growth and enhanced value from selling a more effective product. Pyrethrum will be sourced East Africa for the UK markets and from China for Chinese markets along with other botanicals including matrine. Pyrethrum growers are typically resource and monetarily poor and rely on this crop for their livelihoods. By generating new pyrethrum markets, and reducing impacts of pests on other crops, our innovation will directly reduce poverty of Pyrethrum growers.

Uptake of microbial pesticides internationally is hindered in part by their slow action in controlling insect pests. Addressing this limitation by combining with botanicals will improve control and reduce pest damage, in a formulation that meets international food safety standards, and will increase demand. Use of natural biopesticides will address the major challenge in China's development goals for 2020, which includes improving safety of food and farming and quality of life through healthier environments, alleviate poverty in rural areas, and drive economic growth through innovation (CCCPC, 2016).

Our innovation will be achieved through knowledge exchange between UK-based entomologists and natural product chemists, benefitting our China-based academic and commercial partner. This project will permit translation of academic concepts to applied innovations for poverty alleviation benefitting lower to middle income countries.

The research will provide new evidence on interactions between EPFs and natural enemies and pollinators informing the scientific community about the development of more effective pest control and establish that it is possible to integrate control technologies, opening the door for other combinations of biocontrol tools. All these benefits will extend far beyond the life of the project and establish a basis for the consortium to explore further sustainable agricultural solutions.

Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. 2016. The 13th five-year plan for economic and social development of the People's Republic of China (2016-2020).


10 25 50
Description We have shown that pyrethrum, the target plant based insecticide for the project, works effectively against aphid pests of beans with an entomopathogenic fungus biopesticide with both being used at lower than recommended application rates, showing no antagonism and that there is little effect on the behaviour of a natural enemy of the target pest
Exploitation Route A commercial product that is environmentally more benign than synthetic chemical based pesticides.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

Description Appearance on BBC All Over The Place CBBC TV 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Participated in a programme for CBBC and talked about Kew's and NRIs work on pollinators and bee diversity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description HRH Prince CHarles patron of Kew visit and engagement. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I met with Prince Charles to discuss Kew's work on pollinators and discuss rewilding schemes and the importance of pollinator diversity for food security covering all UKRI projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Invited lecture to IUmperial College London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk to Imperial College London (Silwood Park)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020