China's pesticide and fertilizer market seeks biological alternatives
Gao Songya and Zhang Shixuan

Biopesticides and biofertilizers – those made from natural sources like animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals – are gaining popularity in China, as the government pays more attention to safety and low-carbon development.

On Tuesday, China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said pesticide companies and dealers nationwide are already using the "one bottle-one code" identity system to keep track of quality, as well as keeping illegal pesticides – which are often highly toxic – out of the market. The agriculture regulator also called for cutting the amount of chemical fertilizers in use, in a recent carbon emission reduction plan for rural areas.

"The production of biological pesticides is more eco-friendly as it leaves no residue," said Zhang Hongyan, the vice president of Shanghai Nongle Biological Products. "But it was a lot harder for us to promote biological pesticides rather than chemical pesticides 20 years ago, because Chinese farmers were mostly looking for effectiveness and quick results, instead of quality."

Zhang said things started to change around 2015 when the top policymakers spoke more frequently about environmental protection and quality growth. The company started to offer a package of agricultural services in 2016, with greener fertilizers and pesticide solutions. Three of its self-developed raw biopesticides are about to be commercialized now.

Farmer cooperatives in Shanghai suburbs have been adopting these green solutions since 2017. Some of them took advice from the local authorities and apply biopesticides four to five times a year to avoid rice blasts and sheath blight. 

According to lab research by Shanghai Jiaotong University, the most widely used biopesticides among those cooperatives are developed from metabolites of bacterium, which can be stored for two or three years – the same as chemical ones. The university has just completed lab work on a new, more efficient biopesticide.

"With gene modification and metabolic pathway modification, we can get 14 grams of the pesticide from every 1 liter of fermentation liquid. Normally, the extract would be just 0.05 grams," said He Yawen, the director at the joint R&D center for biopesticide and biofertilizer jointly established by Shanghai Jiaotong University and Shanghai Nongle Biological Products.

It seems that China is moving in the same direction as the global agriculture market, where biopesticides are about to make up a $7 billion market next year, with an annual compounded growth rate of 16 percent. That's almost three times faster than the growth of the overall pesticide market. According to data analysis company Market Research Engine, the biopesticide market is driven by factors such as increased pest resistance, more bans on synthetic pesticides, and advancements in integrated pest management solutions. 

Search Trends