Science - December 16, 2009

Biodiversity treaty blocks organic pest control

Integrated plant protection, in which pests are controlled using their natural enemies, is seriously hindered by the international biodiversity treaty, according to Wageningen entomologist Joop van Lenteren, writing with international colleagues in this month's Biocontrol.

The miner fly
The biodiversity treaty gives countries sovereign rights over their genetic resources. If third parties want to make use of these resources, they have to compensate the country for them in a system called Access and Benefit Sharing. This covers the natural enemies of pest insects as well. Such insects often end up in new countries where their natural enemies are not present. Plant protectors then want to research the natural enemies of the pest and import them. That is when they run up against the new regulations. 'Countries in Latin America and Africa just want cash in hand for every organism that leaves the country', says Van Lenteren. The researchers give several examples.
Mango farmers in Africa are battling with an invasive fruit fly from Sri Lanka that is affecting their harvests. What is more, export of mangos has been stopped to prevent the fly from spreading further. This costs mango farmers a total of 42 million dollars a year in lost income. Naturally, researchers would like to research the fruit fly's natural enemy in Sri Lanka and have been asking since 2007, but have not got permission from the Sri Lankan government.
Another example is an Andean miner fly, which affects the potato harvest in Peru. The fly became resistant to insecticides and was then accidentally transported to Europe and Israel in 1990. Needless to say, researchers would like to research the miner fly's natural enemy. But Peru won't let the relevant parasite out of the country and there is no one in Peru researching the interaction between the fly and the parasite. So nothing is happening.
Where it goes wrong, according to the researchers, is that the costs and benefits of integrated plant protection are hard to allocate. Often it is the people who invest in the research and application of integrated plant protection who make use of it and reap the benefits. The research is often funded by governments or development organizations and is non-profit making. The researchers therefore argue for non-monetary benefit sharing, in which agreements are made which include collaboration with researchers from the land of origin. This will ensure that the knowledge developed can also be applied locally.