Trichogramma mass rearing facilities piloted in Pakistan

24 November 2023, Pakistan: Championing sustainable agriculture by promoting lower-risk plant protection solutions to tackle crop health challenges is a key objective of CABI’s PlantwisePlus programme. In particular, the managing of plant pests and diseases. A cornerstone of this work is setting up local facilities for the mass rearing of lower-risk plant protection solutions.

As of early 2022, PlantwisePlus in Pakistan had seen advancements in this area. The programme established collaborative agreements with provincial governments to introduce low-cost, low-tech mass rearing facilities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Punjab. The focus? Producing the biological control (biocontrol) agent, Trichogramma chilonis. While this parasitic wasp is available in Pakistan, the PlantwisePlus programme aims to introduce a more commercial-scale production. Thus increasing the capacity to produce and supply Trichogramma to farmers.

What is Trichogramma?

Trichogramma chilonis is a tiny parasitic wasp that targets Helicoverpa armigera, also known as the tomato fruit borer. In Pakistan, the tomato fruit borer is a significant pest of tomato. The presence of the pest has historically led farmers to resort to heavy pesticide applications, but Trichogramma offers a sustainable solution.

Compared to other countries, tomato crop production is low in Pakistan, due to pests and diseases. Studies have found that the tomato fruit borer causes over 50% of fruit losses in the Peshawar district of KPK.

Trichogramma is a natural enemy of the tomato fruit borer and can be used as a biological control (biocontrol) agent. Biocontrol is an effective method of controlling a pest’s numbers and spread without harming the environment. It is a safe alternative to the use of pesticides and, in particular, highly hazardous pesticides.

Trichogramma mass rearing in Pakistan

Although several government agricultural departments in Pakistan already produce lower-risk plant protection products, their facilities and processes can be optimized.

So far, PlantwisePlus and local government partners have established three Trichogramma mass rearing facilities (TRF) in Pakistan. The first TRF was set up in 2022 in Mardan, KPK. This facility is now operational, producing and distributing Trichogramma cards to farmers. Earlier this year, the programme also established a facility in Muzaffargarh, South Punjab. And most recently, work has begun on a third facility in Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

As well as working with local partners to construct or renovate these facilities, PlantwisePlus has also provided expert training to facility staff. Staff from CABI’s Regional Centre in Rawalpindi has provided technical support to the establishment of the TRFs in KPK and South Punjab. Whilst more detailed training, on the establishment of a large-scale rearing approach and quality control, has been supported by international experts from CABI Switzerland.

This training helps local staff move from laboratory-scale production to mass rearing that serves the wider farming community.

Using mass rearing to help smallholder communities

Making Trichogramma more widely available to smallholder farmers ensures they spend less on chemical controls. Although periodic releases of Trichogramma are necessary, they are far less frequent than spraying pesticides.

The reduction in chemical use also benefits farmers’ health and supports biodiversity. Chemical pesticides are indiscriminate, also harming populations of beneficial insects. Biocontrol uses nature’s in-built mechanisms to help restore balance.

Used as part of an Integrated Pest Management or IPM strategy, Trichogramma complements other physical, cultural, and (judicious) chemical techniques. In light of this, PlantwisePlus also supports local extension staff with training. This ensures that smallholder farmers can access sound agricultural advice and apply IPM techniques appropriately and to their full potential in the field.

Pesticide risk reduction with PlantwisePlus

PlantwisePlus aims to increase awareness of, access to, and use of affordable IPM solutions. This includes biocontrol as part of an IPM system. The programme recognizes the urgent need to increase the uptake of lower-risk plant protection products. And reduce reliance on high-risk farm inputs.

Through establishing these mass rearing facilities, PlantwisePlus is enhancing partners’ ability to produce their own augmentative biological control solutions. This creates opportunities for farmers to apply safer practices in place of chemical pesticides.

As the facilities develop and become fully operational, PlantwisePlus will investigate whether they can provide a model for successful local agribusinesses. Can they create sustainable employment as well as change farmers’ attitudes to using lower-risk plant protection products? The hope is that they can, and the model can be scaled up in Pakistan and out to other programme countries in the future.

Also Read: Global Fisheries Conference 2023 to be organized in India on 21-22 November at Ahmedabad

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