Amy Hudson writes about what she learnt as a summer intern at CABI whilst working on the systematic review done in 2017 concerning the biological control of pests and the impact on crop yield. She spent time extracting relevant data from various online journals and compiled it so that a meta-analysis may be completed. Before starting at CABI, I knew very little about the biological control of pests in crops. I was given the opportunity to help out with the systematic review investigating the active use of natural enemies in reducing the adverse impacts of pests on yields and wasn’t sure quite what to expect. As a current university student having taken a couple of classes in environmental science, I wasn’t sure whether my current knowledge of environmental technical terms and concepts would suffice in order for me to do my work efficiently. After a lot of googling and asking my colleagues questions, I began to understand more of what the systematic review was all about and found it most intriguing. In fact, I found myself talking at my family explaining the work I was doing, what it might lead to in the meta-analysis, and ultimately, what this could mean for the work that CABI does in other countries and sustainable pest control in general.
Biological control, very simply, in the context we are looking at it, is defined as a means of eradicating or regulating the population of pests on a crop in order to increase yield. This umbrella term can be broken down into three methods of application, namely: augmentation, conservation and importation. It is important to note that typically the methods are not successful without human intervention and aid.
The “traditional” method of controlling pests is through using chemical control methods such as insecticides and other pesticides. I say traditional because of how widely they are used- simply because of how easy they are to apply and how quickly we see results. As my time at CABI progressed, I began to learn more about biocontrol and all of the different forms it can come in. Interestingly, as I delved deeper into the journals written about this topic, I was able to see the emergence of a seemingly constant theme: yield of the chosen crop seemed to improve after the introduction of the chosen biological control agent.
So why then do we not see a worldwide ‘switch’ from chemical control methods to biological control methods since we know that biological control methods are, usually, more beneficial to the environment? Starting the use of biological control isn’t as simple as I’m making it out to sound- while there are many biological control agents that do produce positive yield effects in the chosen crop, finding these agents and getting the adequate permits to use them in agriculture is often a slow process.
Also, from endophytic nematodes to Bacillus spp., many biological control agents are still being researched. While some say they are a step in the wrong direction since they seem to take longer having any effect and producing results, biocontrol is more than just controlling pests- biocontrol is a way for farmers across the world to be able to control pests that damage their yields without fear that the chemical method of control used is harming another part of the environment. It is also a way in which humans can start interacting with the environment around them so that they might care for the sustainability of their land for generations to come.
So, thank you CABI; thank you for educating me in a way that made me want to know more and that made me want to show others the worldwide importance and vitality of biological control of pests that was made clear to me from right when I first walked through the door.
by Amy Hudson, CABI