A version of this story originally appeared on NoCamels – Israeli Environment News
By Aya Ephrati
An Israeli agro-tech company has come up with a novel solution to diminish the use of chemical pesticides on fruits andvegetables: Spray them with pest-fighting vegetable oils!
Tamar-Tech, by the company Agro Shelef, is a plant pest control system that consists of a blend of oils that contain natural plant-protecting elements. These emulsions are sprayed on agricultural plants in greenhouses or in fields.
“We use the natural pest-fighting ability of plants to create Tamar-Tech,” Founder Almog Yaish tells NoCamels. “To take an extreme example, peaches contain cyanide in their pits. This is because they [have evolved] to protect themselves against threats such as squirrels. So, too, do other plants and fruits also contain many different ways to block their ‘enemies.'”
Reducing chemicals by up to 80 percent
“We basically collected a lot of different oils and chemicals like this from different plants, and found out what they each did. Then we created a formula that balances the different actions,” Yaish explains. “A key advantage of using vegetable oils is that pests cannot easily develop a resistance to them.”
The emulsions can both physically stop pests by acting as a poison (that is not harmful to humans), as well as dissuade them from approaching plants in the first place, because they don’t like the thin layer of oil that covers the plant’s surface.
According to Agro Shelef, this thin layer can simply be rinsed off with water by consumers. Agro Shelef believes Tamar-Tech has the potential to reduce the use of chemical pesticides by up to 80 percent. Despite this, it hasn’t been easy to get the product off the ground.
“Our biggest challenge has been starting a small company in an industry full of giants. The pesticide industry is similar to the pharmaceutical industry: huge companies with big budgets. And no one questions the efficiency and nature of their products,” explained Yaish.
“Making people ingest less chemicals”
“We had to go and convince farmer by farmer by showing them demonstrations of the product in action. They were almost always surprised to see that a natural product can be so efficient. In the Negev [Israel's desert region], we have managed to get into the tomato growing industry, and we are having a real, measurable impact on the amount of [chemicals] Israeli consumers are ingesting.”
Yaish and his partner, Uri Yaffe, hope to expand into foreign markets in the future, mostly in Europe and North America. “We want to take our knowledge and experience and put it to use abroad,” said Yaish. “We are now looking for strategic investors who will help us to create offices and a viable plan to market the product outside of Israel.”
Tamar-Tech was co-developed by Agro Shelef Technologies Ltd., the Volcani Institute of Agricultural Research, and the Agricultural Research Organization – the research arm of the Ministry of Agriculture. Development of emulsion formulas began in 2007, and the emulsion machines were designed by the Volcani Institute. Agro Shelef is currently self-funded by Yaish and Yaffe.