Sustainable agriculture and food security are important global goals. Therefore, the government amends related policies and accompanying measures to achieve these goals in Taiwan. The government agencies vigorously promote the development and application of bio-pesticides and bio-fertilizers that are important tools for implementing these policies. In order to promote the development of bio-pesticides and bio-fertilizers, some administrative adjustments were amended to simplify the process of technical evaluation and product review, which could speed up the registration process of related products; meanwhile, research funding opportunities were also provided for relevant research topics in product development and commercialization. Agricultural Technology Research Institute (ATRI) established an agricultural microbial products plant through these research funding projects provided by the Council of Agriculture (COA). The agricultural microbial products plant could assist in creating product prototypes, establishing mass production processes, and verification for product development of the potential beneficial microorganisms studied by academic and research institutes. The reliable supply of product raw materials from this plant could encourage the willingness to engage in technology transfer in industry-academia collaborations and reduce the investment risks at an early stage for new product development. Meanwhile, the manufacturing process and product technical specifications were simultaneously provided to the administration unit for product production technology and safety inspections, saving time and reducing costs associated with the reviews of registration for new products. More new agro-microbial products could be commercialized without a long step-by-step development process and could fulfill the demand for sustainable agriculture in Taiwan.
Keywords: bio-pesticides, bio-fertilizers, sustainable agriculture
Ensuring food safety and establishing sustainable agriculture are long-term and important agricultural policy goals in Taiwan. The key element for successful policy implementation is encouraging the development of reliable emerging technologies and environmental-friendly agricultural material products for farmers to replace the usage of hazardous chemicals; therefore, the COA, the cabinet level administrator of agriculture, forestry, fishery, livestock, and food affairs in Taiwan, has teamed up with its affiliated institutions launching different programs and strategic action plans to achieve this important goal. To strive to achieve the full value of agriculture with regard to food security, environmental-friendliness, sustainability, and business opportunities, “the ten-year program for reducing chemical pesticides usage by half” policy and four “agricultural science and technology R&D strategies and administrative focal points” (White paper on science and technology 2015-2018) were promoted. The main task is to establish farming systems with reduced or no chemical use. Meanwhile, R&D projects related to integrated pest management and the innovation of eco-friendly bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides should be encouraged.
AN ACTION PLAN FOR “THE TEN-YEAR PROGRAM FOR REDUCING CHEMICAL PESTICIDES USAGE BY HALF”
In 2017, the COA set a ten-year program for reducing chemical pesticide usage by half. The main goal is to reduce the amount of active ingredients (AI) used for chemical pesticides from 9,139 metric tons in 2018 to 4,570 metric tons in 2027. For the purpose of reducing chemical pesticide usage, a comprehensive action plan including three main management strategies with twelve measures was programmed and published: (A) Promoting eco-friendly farming systems and strengthening the integrated pest management, for instance, accelerating the development of biological crop protection materials and non-chemical pest management methods, and also providing the subsidies for encouraging eco-friendly farming systems; (B) Elimination of highly hazardous pesticides and strengthening the management of classified pesticides, such as establishing the national classification of pesticides by toxicity, and prohibiting the use of herbicides on areas not devoted to farming; and (C) Establishing accompanying measures and gradually achieving the goal of reducing chemical pesticides usage by half, for example, training programs for pesticide distributors to develop professionalism, promoting plant doctor program, and establishing the system of hiring professional pesticide handlers instead of DIY pest control (BAPHIQ, 2020). This comprehensive action plan will be reassessed and adjusted continuously for achieving the goal.
THE PROMOTION MEASURES FOR ORGANIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL-FRIENDLY FARMING-INCENTIVE MEASURES
Since 1996, the biological fertilizers for organic farming and environmental-friendly farming were promoted by the COA, including the subsidies for agricultural machinery and equipment, and technology education and training programs to encourage farmers to reuse organic wastes in agriculture as fertilizers. Since 2004, the domestic organic fertilizer promotion program has been implemented and judicious use of fertilizers has also been promoted since 2008 to encourage farmers to use organic fertilizers instead of chemical fertilizers in fertilizer management. Furthermore, the strengthening measures for environmental-friendly farming practices were boosted by providing more subsidies and incentives in 2016, and the "Organic Agriculture Promotion Act" had been established in 2018. The regulations and advisory programs for organic farming were clearly stipulated in this act, and the full range of subsidies on certification fees, greenhouse/net houses, agro-machinery, materials, fund loans, and information platform for facilitating farmers to make a sustainable transition to organic agriculture were also provided while implementing this act. The COA indicates that since organic and eco-friendly farming were listed as the primary agendas of New Agriculture Policy in 2016, organic cultivation has reached 8,957 hectares as of the end of April 2019. The organic cultivation area plus the eco-friendly cultivated area of 3,237 hectares amounted to 12,194 hectares, exceeding 1.5% of the country's arable land. Furthermore, with the incentive measures for bio-pesticides and biological agricultural materials, an area of using bio-pesticides has reached 7,382 hectares. The amount of usage has increased by around 42% when compared with 2018, the willingness of local farmers for bio-pesticides was effectively increased (Lin et al. 2020).
THE PROMOTION MEASURES FOR ORGANIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL-FRIENDLY FARMING- AGRICULTURAL SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY R&D STRATEGIES
For the goals of the development of agricultural biotechnology, a “National Science and Technology Program for Agricultural Biotechnology” was carried out in 2000. In the field of bio-pesticide and bio-fertilizer innovation, this program includes the fundamental research on characteristic features of biological functions and mechanism at discovery and primary science stage; scale-up fermentation, formulation, and pre-development Lab. testing at applied research stage; test guidelines establishment for product registration data requirements at product development process stage (Figure 1). Moreover, the COA and its affiliated institutions planned and implemented a four-year extension project, “Promotion program of agro-technology industry’s global logistics,” in 2014-2017. More emerging agricultural biotechnology products were commercialized during this period. However, new bio-pesticide and bio-fertilizer development failed to meet expectations due to low R&D expenditures and resource limitations of small and medium-sized enterprises that play a significant role in Taiwan. Facilitating those small and medium-sized enterprises to implement the R&D results becomes the main challenge for the bio-pesticide and bio-fertilizer industry.
THE ROLES OF ATRI IN PROMOTING THE COMMERCIALIZATION OF BIO-PESTICIDES AND BIO-FERTILIZERS
The main task of Agricultural Technology Research Institute (ATRI), which was established by the COA in 2014, is to create a framework for the industrialization of agricultural technology and the development of entrepreneurship, provision of agricultural technology and commercialization/ industrialization service to agribusiness, agricultural groups and farmers. To facilitate the development of bio-pesticide and bio-fertilizers, ATRI works collaboratively with academia, research institutes, and private sectors to accelerate the growth of new application methods and products. An Agricultural Microbial Products Plant, established by ATRI via COA-granted research projects, serves as a one-stop technology platform providing complimentary technical services such as OEM customized processing, microbial mass production, production pilot run, and formulation testing various product development stages of bio-pesticides and bio-fertilizers. Moreover, the facility of microbial product plant has fulfilled the requirements of Taiwan's safety standards and passed the safety inspection that could assist cooperative partners processing production validation test, optimizing fermentation process, and approaching formula adjustment from lab scale, the pilot trial to mass production. For the final stage of product registration, various testing services such as EUP field tests, GLP physicochemical studies, and GLP toxicology studies were also provided.
Additionally, a high-throughput plant phenotyping platform was conducted to analyze the efficacy of microbial agents in controlling disease and promoting crop growth (Figure 2). This technology platform cooperates with academics to screen optimal formulation types and application methods to have high efficacy in plant disease control. Besides, ATRI collaborates with National Chung Hsing University (NCHU) to develop agricultural microbial products with multiple functions in crop, livestock, and fishery. The resulting products applying feed additives have shown excellent feeding benefits in animal husbandry and aquaculture compared to commercially manufactured feeds. The results showed that the E. coli populations, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide concentrations significantly reduced in livestock manure compared to control. Composting manure from that livestock manure has reduced the risk of pollutants and pathogen contamination. Furthermore, beneficial microbes in manure can be excellent bio-fertilizers for crop cultivation.
Beneficial microorganisms have been used to fight against plant diseases in agriculture for centuries and have drawn more attention because consumers are increasingly concerned about food safety. It has been suggested that in an era of rapid climate change with anticipated increases in crop pests and diseases, maximizing microbial functions in agro-ecosystems has become indispensable for the future of global sustainable agriculture.
Taiwan has crafted the policy guidelines for eco-friendly agricultural environment, from the action plan for “The ten-year program for reducing chemical pesticides usage by half” policy, the "Organic Agriculture Promotion Act" which regulates related advisory programs, to the full range of subsidies that were provided to promote the usage of bio-pesticides and bio-fertilizers as chemical alternatives. All these actions to establish eco-friendly agriculture have created a promising marketing foundation for related industries in Taiwan. Meanwhile, the fruitful research results from academics further develop more potential diversified products that could be applied in the field. However, the application of beneficial microorganisms in agriculture needs a long bio-pesticide and bio-fertilizer product development process, which encompasses various steps required to carry out a product from basic research to market availability. Moreover, the product development cost and the time it takes to get the product to market are also barriers for the bio-pesticide and bio-fertilizer industry. The product innovation chain could be accelerated, and more microbial products with diverse functions can be expected to be commercialized soon through the tripartite collaboration among academics, ATRI, and the industry. These eco-friendly biological products will be able to meet the increasing demand for sustainable agriculture in Taiwan.
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