Feeding the world

Biological products for sustainable crop protection
Rising demand for alternatives to broad-spectrum conventional pesticides is driving investment in the development of environmentally friendly biological crop protection products that support sustainable agriculture. This report reviews the background to this growth and discusses some of the novel techniques being deployed, including RNA interference (RNAi) and individual companies engaged in development and commercialisation.  

Crop protection products boost farming yields

The United Nations’ (UN’s) second sustainable development goal is to eliminate hunger globally. Plant pests can cause significant losses to crop yields, posing a major threat to food security, so improving crop yields through the continued application of crop protection products will be key to achieving this goal. Better yields will also help reduce the volume of greenhouse gases emitted per tonne of food produced, supporting initiatives to combat climate change. Significantly, the UN is promoting the adoption of sustainable agricultural techniques as a central part of achieving its goal of eradicating hunger. This means that farmers will need to switch from using broad-spectrum conventional pesticides to more environmentally friendly alternatives.

Switch to biological crop protection products

This shift away from conventional crop protection products has already started. It is being driven by consumer and government concerns about food safety and the environment, which are translating into greater consumption of organic food and legislation banning some conventional pesticides. In addition, the efficacy of conventional products is declining as pests develop resistance to them. Consequently, while the global crop protection market is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 3.7% between 2021 and 2026, the shift away from conventional pesticides means that the global agricultural biological control agents market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 14.5% between 2019 and 2025.

RNA: A biological approach attracting attention

RNA techniques, which mimic natural processes for regulating the production of proteins, are attracting a lot of attention at present. This is partly because of the use of mRNA in COVID-19 vaccines, and partly because of the market capitalisation of over US$1bn achieved by GreenLight Biosciences Holdings (GRNA:US) at its initial public offering (IPO) in February 2022. This report therefore reviews alternative techniques for manufacturing and delivering RNA-based products, concluding that bioengineered yeast, as developed by Renaissance BioScience for example, potentially has significant advantages with regards to both cost of production and ease of administration. The report also discusses some of the alternative biological approaches that involve triggering the natural defences of plants, mimicking substances produced by plants themselves to deter predators and synthesising beneficial agents in the plant biome.

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Renaissance BioScience is a client of Edison Investment Research limited 

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