Since the beginning of agriculture, plant extracts, living organisms and mineral salts have been used to fertilize soils and control pests. This is knowledge recovered by agroecology. Agrifood companies, responsible for the massive use of agrochemicals, also promote their bio-inputs, but they are far from caring about nature and health.
Agroecology has two fundamental principles. One is integral soil nutrition, a process that includes the use of different practices and technologies to increase the amount of organic matter. When soils are well nourished, they have a great diversity of insects, fungi and bacteria; aspect that improves its biological, physical and chemical characteristics. The other is the recreation of biodiversity, essential both for good soil nutrition and for the balance between the components of the system based on the establishment of cycles, flows and inter- and intra-specific relationships. Considering these two principles of agroecology: What is the role of biopreparations and bioinputs?
It can happen that, although environmentally friendly agroecosystems are designed and realized, what is called “adversity” occurs. From our anthropocentric perspective, we call adversity, for example, anything that stands between plants and us and prevents us from getting the food we want. An adversity can be excessive rain, wind, hail, but it can also be the presence of other living beings who want to feed on the same plants as us or interfere with their growth. Among them we have insects, mites, bacteria, fungi and wild plants.
To face these adversities, organic and agroecological producers use strategies, practices and technologies based on the production and use of living organisms, their parts and their metabolites. It can be used in its preparation from parts of plants and bacteria, fungi and insects. Preparations based on minerals such as lime, sulfur and copper can also be used.
In Argentina, these products can be obtained in the market, becoming inputs, or obtained from nature itself or self-production, preparing them on the same property where they will be applied. According to the regulations in force in our country, a “bio-input” can be considered as any biological product which consists of or has been produced by micro-organisms, arthropods or plant extracts, and which can be used as an input. in agricultural production.
That is, products that consist of or have been made with fungi, bacteria, viruses, beneficial insects, plant extracts or compounds derived from them. These bio-inputs, which are produced industrially and are beginning to attract investment from the same companies that produce pesticides, have a series of advantages (in their production, preparation and use) compared to synthetic pesticides. On the other hand, they have a set of disadvantages compared, for example, to the biopreparations which can be carried out, individually or in collaboration, in the culture units themselves.
Bio-inputs versus pesticides, a “green” shift in the market
The following benefits of bio-inputs can be detailed:
- They do not emit toxic residues into the environment that could contaminate soil, air and water.
- Its use does not involve health risks for workers, producers and producers or consumers and consumers.
- They allow the cultivation of food of high intrinsic quality.
- They improve the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the soil.
- They have a low impact in ecosystem services such as pollination, natural pest control, nutrient cycling and removal.
- They allow an adequate transition to agroecology
- They help generate environmental sustainability and economic viability.
- The development of new bio-inputs requires less investment and less time to market than conventional synthetic chemical pesticides.
Among the products that can be obtained on the Argentine market are biofertilizers, bioinsecticides and effective microorganisms. The use of bioinputs of microbial origin is dominated by biofertilizers.
Then the so-called bioinsecticides appear. For example, viruses used to control the moth carpocapsa in fruit trees such as apple trees and those based on beneficial fungi such as the biofungicide based on trichoderma harzianum. Concerning the biocontrollers: 21 of them are formulated based on beneficial bacteria, for example —Bacillus thuringiensis and Bacillus subtilis— two of them are formulated based on entomopathogenic viruses.
In Argentina, the Argentine Chamber of Bioinputs (Cabio) was founded in 2017. According to its own publicity, it already has 88 companies that produce inoculants and biofertilizers with 653 commercial brands. In addition, there are 15 biocontrol companies, offering 27 types of products in the country.
Transnational pesticide companies are also making inroads into the production of organic inputs. This is part of the market positioning strategies, with a “green” discourse, with which they seek to show themselves as suppliers of inputs for sustainability and food sovereignty.
Within the Chamber of Agricultural Health and Fertilizers (Casafe), the Organic Products Commission was created, made up of the main companies in the sector. In this case, 74% of member companies invest in the development and production of bio-inputs. The commission is made up of the companies Barenbrug, Biotrop, Laboratorios CKC Argentina, Nitrasoil Argentina, NOVA, Novozymes, Stoller Argentina and Verdesian Life Sciences South America, recently integrated into the chamber, which join companies with biological products and partners such as Basf , Bayer, FMC, Rizobacter, SpeedAgro, Sumitomo, Summit Agro, Syngenta and UPL.
These biologically based products obtained on the market have disadvantages compared to those obtained from nature itself or from self-production:
- It is necessary to know its characteristics, its modes of action, its interaction with the rest of the living beings present in the agroecosystem.
- It is necessary to know the incidence and relationship of biological inputs with climatic and edaphic factors.
- They can increase production costs.
- Unlike process technologies, they involve a monetary outlay for the producer.
- They can generate a technological dependency.
- They can delay the development and establishment of true agro-ecological systems, based on biological diversity and the integral nutrition of soils.
Biopreparations, technologies adapted to nature
Bio-inputs must be purchased on the market, generating not only greater economic expenditure, an aspect that affects production costs, but also poses a great technological dependence. In this sense, if the production conditions are not modified —integral nutrition of the soil and incorporation of biodiversity—, the problems are repeated every year, for example: the actions of insects such as ants, bed bugs and isocas.
Since the beginning of agriculture, man has used plant extracts, living organisms and mineral salts to manage the actions of what stands between us and the crops we seek to feed on. From agroecology, we mean applying these preparations correctly only when necessary and using plants that grow naturally or are present on our property. It is sought that they are real appropriate technologies adapted to the local culture, the climate, the needs of the producers, favoring technological autonomy, sustainability, environmental resilience and social organization.
These preparations are natural, but they do not replace all the practices and measures promoted by agroecology, since they alone do not restore the ecological balance. These are easy practices to carry out, in many cases the plants present in our garden or in the community where we live. We must bear in mind that, although they have low toxicity and decompose quickly, the preparations that we make and apply to our crops will also interfere with the life and development of beneficial insects, decreasing, for example, the presence of insect larvae, by delaying the development of parasitoids and their emergence as adults from their hosts.
A list of biopreparations used by commercial and self-produced producers includes:
- Tomato germ extract.
- Absinthe cooking.
- Nettle extract.
- Cooking horsetail.
- Cooking lavender leaves.
- Purines of paradise.
- Garlic alcohol.
- Spicy alcohol.
- Aguaribay kitchen.
- soapy water
- Onion alcohol.
Finally, we must always check whether the number of insects and fungi can cause real damage to our agroecosystems. We must keep in mind the need to coexist; because in addition to harmful insects, bacteria and fungi, there are also beneficial ones.
Biopreparations are natural, but they do not replace all the practices and measures that begin with the design of the farm and the proper nutrition of plants, since they do not by themselves restore the ecological balance.