Comparative Advantage of Using Bio-pesticides in Indian Agro-ecosystems

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Hasrat Arjjumend, Konstantia Koutouki, Simon Neufeld*

Citation: Hasrat Arjjumend, Konstantia Koutouki, Simon Neufeld “Comparative Advantage of Using Bio-pesticides in Indian Agro-ecosystems”. American Research Journal of Agriculture, Vol 7, no. 1, 2021, pp. 1-15

Copyright t © 2021 Hasrat Arjjumend et., This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The use of unsustainable levels of plant protection chemicals and fertilizers has resulted in a steady decline in soil quality and crop productivity the world over. To combat this decline, agricultural practices must evolve to meet the growing global demand for food without irreversibly damaging the world’s natural resources.Biopesticides have tremendous potential to bring sustainability to agriculture and environmental safety.This article is part of a larger study conducted in India by the authors at the Université de Montréal with the support of Mitacs and Earth Alive Clean Technologies. In this research, farmers, manufacturers or suppliers of biopesticides, and R&D scientists were interviewed, and their responses demonstrate the advantages of applying microbial biopesticidesto field crops. Participants reported a15-30% increase in yields and crop production after the application of biopesticides, with better quality and quantity of fruits, grains, and tubers with a longer shelf life. Moreover, while the risk of croploss is high (60-70%) with chemically grown crops, this risk is reduced to 33% on average when crops are grown using biopesticides. The risk of crop loss is thus considerably reducedby the use of biopesticides.Yet, despite their positive impact on the health of humans, soil,ecosystems, and friendly invertebrates,biopesticides face significant challenges and competition vis-à-vis synthetic pesticides for a variety of reasons. The development of biopesticides must overcome the problems of improper formulations, short shelf life, delayed action, and high market costs, as well as a variety of legal/registration issues.
KEYWORDS: Biopesticides; Biologicals; Advantage; Ecological risks; Economic risks; Farmers’ Preference
Comparative Advantage of Using Bio-pesticides in Indian Agro-ecosystems


There are an estimated 67,000 different crop pest species - including plant pathogens, weeds, invertebrates and some vertebrate species - and together they cause an approximately 40% reduction in the world’s crop yield (Oerkeet al., 1994). One way to increase food availability is to improve the management of these pests. However, the unsustainable application of plant protection chemicals has resulted in the steady decline of soil health and crop productivities the world over (Aktar, Senguptaand Chowdhury, 2009). To reverse this decline, agricultural practices must evolve to sustainably meet the growing global demand for food without irreversibly damaging the world’s natural resources (especially soil).

Simply put, increasing food yields cannot be achieved through unsustainable utilization of water, energy, chemicals, and land. Investing in sustainable agriculture is one of the most effective ways to simultaneously achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) related to poverty and hunger, nutrition and health, education, economic and social growth, peace and security, and the preservation of the world’s environment (Earth Alive, 2017). B
iopesticides hold the potential to increase farmers’ current agricultural productivity, while at the same time contributing to the soil’s ability to produce more in the future. Several countries such as Canada, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, USA and Brazil, among others, have embraced these technologies. The list of potential commercial products that promise increased yield for the farmer continues to grow (Simiyu et al., 2013).
Although insect pests remain one of the major limiting factors in sustaining the productivity of various crops, the indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides negatively affects humans and their environment (Rani et al., 2013). Agriculture is one of the most important economic sectors within developing countries, and economic development in India is largely dependent upon the development of agriculture.
The scope of this study was confined to microbial products used for plant protection. According to scientists, biopesticides have minimal impact on non-target organisms (OECD 2009: 11). Possessing complex modes of action, they are not prone to resistance and help reduce the development of resistance when used in resistance management programs (Arjjumend and Koutouki, 2018).

Biopesticides also hold significant benefits for growers, offering:
  • Minimal impact on non-target organisms;
  • Pest control, thereby enhancing crop quality and yields;
  • Improved export opportunities, because most are exempt from minimum residue limits;
  • Organically approved status that allows organic growers to control pests while maintaining their certified status.
Biopesticides are derived from organisms including plants, bacteria and other microbes, fungi, and nematodes (Copping, 2009; EPA, 2012). They are often important components of integrated pest management (IPM) programmes and have received a great deal of attention as substitutes to synthetic chemical plant protection products (PPPs). There are three broad categories of biopesticides: microbial biopesticides, botanical biopesticides, and semiochemicals. Microbial biopesticides are derived from fungi, bacteria, algae, viruses, nematodes and protozoa, and other compounds produced directly from these microbes such as metabolites (van Lenteren, 2012). The names of some microbial biopesticides are shown in Table 1. A detailed biotechnological account of biopesticides is described by Arjjumend and Koutouki (2018).
The second category of biopesticides, botanical biopesticides, are derived from plants that have the ability to kill or sterilize insects, to control weeds, or to regulate plant growth. Worldwide, nearly 6000 plant species have been identified with insecticidal properties (Nawaz, Mabubu and Hua, 2016). In India, the application of botanical biopesticides is a very old tradition. Products derived from plants such as neem (Azadirachta indica), custard apple (Annona reticulata), tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum), and pyrethrum (Tanacetum cinerariifolium) have been used as insecticides (Koul, 2012). Farmers apply botanicals to protect crops and stored products from insect pests. Studies have shown that botanical biopesticides have ecologically benign characteristics, such as a volatile nature and low environmental risks as compared to synthetic pesticides (Nawaz, Mabubu and Hua, 2016). Indeed, the minimal residual activity of botanical biopesticides does not affect predation, parasitism, or pollination by insects (Xu, 2011). Table 2 lists some important botanical biopesticides.

The third broad category of biopesticides is semiochemicals which are chemical signals produced by one organism that cause behavioral changes in an individual of the same or a different species (Chandler et al., 2011). Commonly used semiochemicals for crop protection are insect sex pheromones, some of which can now be synthesized and are used for lure-and-kill systems (El-Sayed et al., 2009) and mating disruption (Chandler et al., 2011). Worldwide, mating disruption is used on over 660,000 hectares of land and has been particularly useful on orchard crops (Witzgall et al., 2008). According to Nawaz, Mabubu and Hua (2016), about 1000 kinds of insect pheromones have been identified so far and more than 30 target species have been controlled successfully by sex pheromones. Other types of semiochemicals are deployed to attract insect pests and kill them (Witzgall, Kirsh and Cock, 2010; Dhaliwal et al., 2012). For example, the application of compounds such as jasmonic acid to plants can induce the production of herbivore-induced plant volatiles (HIPVs). Sodium alginate is an example of an HIPV that triggers biological control by attracting natural enemy insects and aphids (Heuskin et al., 2012; Gurr, Simpson and Wratten, 2012).
The global biopesticide market has been growing in the double digits. More than 200 products are currently sold in the US market, compared to only 60 comparable products in the EU. More than 225 microbial biopesticides are manufactured in 30 OECD countries (Hubbard et al., 2014). Countries like Canada, USA and Mexico use about 45% of the biopesticides sold, while Asia lags behind with the use of only 5% of biopesticides sold the world over (Bailey, Boyetchko and Längle, 2010). In India, the uptake has been rather slow. Biopesticides have low single digit market share (Urs, 2015). Along with neem (Azadirechta indica) derived products, Trichoderma strains of antagonistic fungi and Pseudomonas fluorescens bacteria dominate the market. The existing producers of biopesticides in India have also been losing credibility among farmers, as their products prove to be ineffective against serious pathogenic outbreaks. The supply chain is also problematic, as minor changes in temperature, humidity, and exposure to the UV spectrum severely affects the performance of the biopesticides.
This article is part of a larger study conducted between September 2017 and February 2020 by the authors at the Faculty of Law at the Université de Montréal, with the support of Mitacs and Earth Alive Clean Technologies.It focuses on the advantages of using biopesticides vis-à-vis chemical pesticides. Three different groups of participants were surveyed about biopesticides between April 2018 and March 2019 using methods that included semi-structured interviews, structured interviews, informal discussions, and observation. Response groups included farmers who use biofertilizers (“user farmers”) and those who do not (“non-user farmers”), along with manufacturers or suppliers of biofertilizers, and R&D scientists.Their responses were recorded, leading to the conclusion that microbial products (biologicals) are advantageous when applied in field crops. The agronomic advantage of biopesticides compared to conventional chemical pesticides is well-proven biologically and in economic terms. Farmers have also shown their preference for biopesticides over chemical pesticides and have expressed a greater willingness to adopt biopesticides for better crop yields.
Research was conducted in India to understand the comparative advantages of using biopesticides. The methods used to collect data for this research include primary surveys, interviews of participant groups, and observations made in the field.These methodologies are described below. 
Sampling and Sample Techniques
Three participant groups were chosen to conduct this study: Group 1 (G. 1) - R&D Scientists; Group 2 (G.2) - Manufacturers and Suppliers; and Group 3 (G.3) - User & Non-User Farmers of Biopesticides. Group1 comprised those involved in the research and development (R&D) of biopesticides, as well as scientists conducting research on microbial agents. This group was included for their knowledge of and experience with the microbiology and agrochemistry of microbial biopesticides. Group2 participants includedthe manufacturers and suppliers of agro-biologicals, who are direct stakeholders involved in the supply chain. Finally, Group3 participants were farmers/cultivators/growers, some of whom were using biopesticides on their crops. These farmers were direct stakeholders of the study on biopesticides.
Table 3 contains the total sample size of each of the participant groups. For Group1 participants (R&D scientists), the total sample size was 12. The Indian states where the Group 1 participants were located are also indicated. Similarly, eight manufacturers/suppliers of biopesticides (Group2 participants) were interviewed in the specified states. Finally, 36 farmers (Group3 participants) were also sampled and interviewed. The distribution of these farmers is highlighted in Table 4. All the proposed participants except those in Group3 were first contacted by telephone and/or email in order to make an appointment. Following this initial contact, the participants were visited inperson and interviewed.
Data was collected from each participant group using different sampling techniques and research methods (Table 3). The farmers in G 3 group were divided into two major distinct categories: non-users of biopesticides, and users of biopesticides. They were then randomly sampled (Table 3). The composition of the sampling of these farmers is illustrated in Table 4.

Methods of Data Collection

As indicated in Table 3, different data collection methods were used to gather data from participant groups. For instance, information from Group1 participants (scientists) was collected using informal discussions and semi-structured interviews based on the questions listed in Appendix 1. On the other hand, manufacturers/suppliers (Group2 participants) gave their responses in accordance with the questions as listed in Appendix 2. The data gathering methods used were semi-structured and structured interviews as indicated in Table 3. The farmer group (Group3 participants) were surveyed by employing structured interviews, semi-structured interviews and observation methods. The questions for non-users of biologicals are listed in Table 5, while the questions for users of biologicals are listed in Table 6.

Certificat d’approbation éthique (Ethical Approval Certificate) and Compliance

The Multi-Faculty Committee on Research Ethics (Comité plurifacultaire d’éthique de la recherche - CPER) of the Université de Montréal issued an Ethical Approval Certificate (no. CPER-17-114-P)to the study project. The conditions of the Ethics Certificate were fulfilled during the collection of field data from all threeparticipant groups. In compliance with the Ethical Certificate, aConsent Form was presented to each of the individual participants in either English or Hindi, depending on participant preference, and was signed by both the participant and field researcher. Before conducting the interview or discussion with the participant(s), each individual was informed ofthe objectives of the research through an Information Sheet containing participant expectations, the participantbenefits of sharing information, details concerning confidentiality, and participants’ right to withdraw. Information collection occurred only once explanations concerning the research had been provided and the freely given consent of the participant was obtained.


A sampling of 12 farmers (three farmers in each of four states) who were not using biopesticides and their responses to several questions were recorded (Table 5). These questions chiefly concerned their perceptions of the disadvantages of using chemical pesticides and the impacts they observed on the agroecosystem, human health, and domestic animals. Likewise, 24 farmers (sixfarmers in each of fourstates) who were using biopesticides were interviewed and their answers were recorded (Table 6). The responses of farmers in the “user” and “non-user” groups are analyzed and compared in the following subsections.

1. Soil performance with the use ofchemical pesticides and biopesticides

Participants whouse chemical pesticidesexpressed their views on how chemical pesticides affect the soil, plants, ecosystem, human health and animalhealth (Table 5). They indicated that the soil, air and water are contaminated by the use of chemical pesticides (Table 5). In turn, the contaminated soil causes public health hazards, threats to livestock, and damage to plants. Severalparticipants statedthat the number of cancer patients is increasing year by year in the state of Punjab due to the excessive use of chemical pesticides (Table 5). The farmers also highlighted the way in which pesticides affect the soil, ecosystem and humans. They described that a proneness to many diseases is created through constant or excessive use of chemical pesticides (Table 5). The effect of chemical pesticides manifests as an imbalance in the agroecosystem. Two important observationswere highlighted by farmers in this regard: 1) that the friendly insects and wasps die after exposure to toxic pesticides; and 2) that 90% of pesticide residues remain in the soil and enter the human body via the food chain (Table 5).

By contrast, farmers who use biopesticides expressed their views on how the biopesticides benefit the soil, plants, ecosystem, and human and animalhealth (Table 6). They responded that biopesticides can kill pest fungi, nematodes, insects and other pathogens(Table 6). According to several of the farmers interviewed, microbialbiopesticides support the soil biology and build soil health (Table 6).These farmers also described the ways in which soil health is protected or preserved usingbiopesticides. They statedthat the microbes inbiopesticides act only on the target eggs or larva of insect pests, or in some cases eat the spores of harmful fungi (Table 6). Manufacturers and suppliers also indicated that biopesticides help worms survive better in soil, as the soilremains healthy, protected, clean, residue-free and non-poisonous. Userfarmers also notedthat biopesticides do not have chemicals that cause damage to soil biology, and are cheaper and environmentally safe (Table 6).    

Farmers who use biopesticides further explained the ways in which biopesticides address crop protection issues and how plants are protected from insects, pests, fungi, nematodes, etc. (Table 6). According to these farmers, biopesticides disrupt the life cycle of insect pests, especially the larval or pupal stage) without affecting other (non-target) organisms and without harming beneficial insects and fungi (Table 6). Moreover, biopesticides leave no ecological footprint (Table 6).    

2. Health and ecological risks from chemical pesticides

Farmers who usechemical pesticides discussed the common health effects of chemical pesticides, especially on children and women (Table 5). They named certain common diseases that can be attributed to usage of chemical pesticides,such as: weakness, indigestion, memory loss, cancer, skin disorders, weight loss, energy inefficiency andweakened immune system. They also stated that pesticide residues affect the growth of children. The users of chemical pesticides also explained the ecological effects of chemical pesticides. They highlighted that water, soil and air are polluted, and that ecosystems are severely affected as pesticides destroy beneficial microbes and insects in the soil and agroecosystem (Table 5). While some farmers of Uttarakhand felt that there was no known effect of pesticides in the hills, other farmers statedthat water, air and soil are polluted and contributed to eutrophication of water bodies. The farmers using chemical pesticides also felt that public health is severely affected by these products.

The users of biopesticides also commented on the common health effects of chemical pesticides (Table 6). They listed some illnesses linked to the use ofchemical pesticides in agriculture, including reproductive disorders, hearing impairment, respiratory problems, cancer, asthma, memory loss, poisoning, skin diseases, eye irritation, disturbance of menstrual cycle, and neurological issues in children (Table 6).
All participant farmers compared chemical pesticides and biopesticides (Table 6),stating that biopesticides are safer compared to chemical pesticides. Moreover, with respect to the comparative ecological advantage of biopesticides, the participant farmers using biopesticides expressed that biopesticides do not pollute, poison or contaminate water, soil and air, and that they keep the environment clean and protect agroecosystems (Table 6). They clearly explained that biopesticides are safer and non-toxic,causing no ecological harm or killing of non-target insects. When these farmers were asked to comment on the biosafety aspects of biopesticides, they statedthat biosafety of these products isensured because they are non-toxicand environmentally safer (Table 6).

3. Comparative yield & characteristics of produce

During field studies, farmers providedfeedback concerningthe effect of biopesticides on qualitative changes in crop production (Table 6). To the question “how do you measure the (comparative) productivity of crops accruing after usage of biopesticide(s)?” (Table 6), the farmers responded that they observed an increase in crop yields. Onefarmer estimated a yield increase of 15% after the use of biopesticides. The qualitative aspects of crops, such as taste, colour, quantity, and shelf-life, may also change with the use of biopesticides. To assess these changes, farmers were asked “how is the farm produce (grains, fruits, tubers) different when biopesticide(s) used?” (Table 6). The participant farmers statedthat the tubers, grains and fruits had abetter taste, size, quality, production, shelf-life, and colour after the use of biopesticides. According to them, the biopesticides kill the pests and fungi, without doing ecological damage (Table 6).