Whether it’s keeping little pests out of greenhouse netting or larger critters out of food packaging, Israeli companies have the answer.
By Rivka Borochov
Greenhouse netting is a farmer’s first line of defense against critters that eat leaves and chew through roots, but tiny bugs can slip through the fine mesh. A new company from Israel called EdenShield has a natural solution for keeping greenhouses pest-free without nasty pesticides that pollute the earth and harm people.
The company has developed a plant-derived extract from a bush found in Israel, Jordan and Egypt to repel insects from the exterior netting of the greenhouse.
Company founder Yaniv Kitron has years of experience working with plant extracts from the Holy Land region that he uses in his natural cosmetics line, Herbs of Kedem. His latest idea involves a remedy used by Israeli Bedouin to alleviate irritated intestines.
Kitron found an extract from the bush can be applied to nets as a natural defense against tiny insects like thrips and the tomato leaf miner. Both pests can do extensive damage to greenhouse crops, yet most farmers today agree that the use of fewer pesticides in agriculture is the best way to grow.
This new invention, under development at the Mofet Venture Accelerator in Kiryat Arba and funded by an Office of the Chief Scientist grant, seems to block the olfactory senses of the bugs that would normally help them home in on their supper. In a “sense” this extract, Kitron says, acts as a nose plug that confuses the insect. And it works on a broad range of bugs. Why or how is yet to be determined by EdenShield’s chemists and biologists.
“It is interesting to see why so many different pests are affected by this extract. Maybe it is acting more like an odor mask than repellent,” says Kitron.
The fact that this natural chemical does not kill the insect should be seen as a plus rather than a minus, he notes. Ecologists have shown, Kitron explains, that pesticide use leads to stronger and more resilient pests. One of the reasons is that conventional pesticides also kill the natural predators of the pest, wiping out an important line of defense.
“Our solution doesn’t cause mortality and it is not toxic to insects or humans,” says Kitron. “We believe this is a more efficient tool to be used in integrated pest-management programs. Our solution can even enhance the effectiveness of the pest’s natural enemies.”
The secret burning bush?
This particular bush (its species name withheld to protect the company’s IP) seems to have developed a special resistance to desert pests only in the Levant area, though the bush grows in other regions of the world.
In the humanitarian domain, Kitron says that EdenShield is also undergoing tests on mosquito nets used for combating malaria-carrying anopheles and the kissing bug, a blood-sucking insect that carries the chagas parasite and is a problem in South America, various regions of Africa, Jordan and the Dead Sea area.
Down the road, Kitron hopes the spray could be developed into a general pest repellent for plants. But for that, more rigorous tests by health agencies need to be done. He is currently testing EdenShield in Israel and is seeking partnerships with greenhouses around the world to test the product’s potency.
A spicy repellent goes to market
The use of natural methods for pest control is an Israeli specialty. In another line of defense, the Israeli company Organis developed a naturally sourced insect repellent from the turmeric plant. The company’s focus is keeping insects out of food packaging and warehouses, particularly for manufacturers of cereals, grains, pasta, nuts, beans, dried fruits, coffee, and chocolate and cocoa products.
Turmeric, an ingredient in curry, is a favorite in Indian and Middle East cuisine, but Israeli Druze villagers also use it as a natural medicine. It was, in fact, Israeli Druze Prof. Fadel Mansour who suggested it to his business peers as a commercial opportunity.
Based on years of research by entomologists from Israel, Organis was founded in 2001 as BioPack. The company has created a platform of insect repellents derived from the turmeric plant that are deemed safe for humans and animals to consume. Organis’ solution has been classified as “generally recognized as safe” by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Organis has three solutions currently on the market or in advanced stages of development under the BioPack trademark. The company typically provides customized services and technologies according to individual customer’s needs. This can start at the post-harvest stage, during the manufacturing process and all the way up until the products are delivered to retailers.
The company has already reached the revenue stage and is actively seeking new “spicy” business opportunities.