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Natural pest management cuts rice waste



A EUREKA project has come up with a novel combination of natural methods to keep rice safe from insects and fungi during storage, providing a welcome substitute for pesticides.

An eco-innovative alternative to growing ever more rice to feed booming populations in Asia, Latin America and Africa is to lose less during storage. Pesticides are routinely used to minimise losses to insects and fungi, but can pose health risks to consumers and workers. Plus there is the escalating problem of pests developing resistance to the very chemicals intended to control them.

Much better, thought Maria Otilia Carvalho from the Tropical Research Institute in Portugal, is to cut these losses using natural methods that are 100% safe. She turned to EUREKA for help. The three-year, €0.3 million project involved a consortium of rice farmers and scientists from Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the USA to find a clean, green protection method. This innovative integrated pest-management system is already in use by four companies and under consideration by others in countries including Argentina, Brazil, India and Mozambique.

“We designed a novel way to manage pests using technologies that are environmentally- and user-friendly,” says Carvalho. The results are impressive: typical losses during storage of up to a quarter are cut by no less than 95%. And consumers are happier with a product they feel safe eating.

The technological breakthrough combines three techniques: an electronic insect trap that lets growers ‘look’ inside a rice-storage silo to see how many insects they are fighting; aeration or refrigeration to lower storage temperatures and delay pest development; and the use of CO2 or nitrogen to kill or slow down development.

“The main novelty of this approach is that it brings the different technologies together,” says Shlomo Navarro, an entomologist from Food Technology International Consultancy in Israel who worked on the project. “The approach can be used for other grains as well, not just rice,” he adds. A EUREKA seal on the product packaging identifies the system as a product of European research.

Eventually the technologies could even help African farmers get a better price for their crops. Navarro is working with subsistence farmers to encourage them to store their excess rice safely, instead of selling it off at harvest time when prices are lowest.

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Multigovernmental research initiative

EUREKA is a multigovernmental European research initiative bringing together 39 countries plus the EU as its 40th member. Together, they promote international, market-oriented research and innovation by supporting cross-border projects involving large and small industry, universities and research institutes. The platform was established in 1985.

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