The New Solution That Makes Crops “Invisible” to Pests

A version of this story originally appeared on NoCamels – Israeli Environment News

edenshield-460x250By Tal Sandler

If you are a farmer, you will know that pests are just about the biggest enemy to your crops and livelihood. Pests can destroy every single one of your crops and they are sometimes resistant to insect repellants. Enter EdenShield – an innovative Israeli company that is working on an odor-masking product that tricks pests into believing your crops simply aren’t there.

EdenShield is designed to trick pests such as thrips, whiteflies, and tomato leafminer, in Israel and abroad. Edenshield’s formula is applied to greenhouse screens where it masks the odor of the crops inside and lowers insect attraction. The all natural, allegedly nontoxic bug repellent conceals the smell of plants and flowers – and possibly even people. It’s like putting a “nose clip” on bugs so they can’t smell and detect a potential host.

The natural extract comes from a bush that grows in Israel, the Sinai desert and Jordan, and is already being tested in Israeli greenhouses. These plants have evolved to survive in desert environments, so the plants eventually develop compounds that help them exist and survive in these kinds of environments. EdenShield Founder & CEO Yaniv Kitron, a chemical engineer, tells NoCamels: “This particular bush has been used for centuries by Bedouin in tea as a way to counter inflammation. [This is proof that] the plants we use are nontoxic. It has been used as medicine for centuries taken orally. So there are no safety hazards in using our product.  Also it is not applied directly onto the plant.”

A mask, not a repellent

“Four years ago, I [came up] with the idea to do research on some botanical compounds that deter insects such as thrips and white flies. That is what initiated the research activity and later we founded the company,” Kitron says.  Kitron’s business partner is Menashe Yonatan Eitan, a computer engineer with 20 years of business development and project management.

Kitron is still analyzing the plant’s chemical makeup in order to determine which molecule in the bush produces the repellent effect. He strongly suspects that the extract does not smell bad to the bug, but somehow masks the odor of the plants the pests would otherwise destroy. The company’s product is intended for use on greenhouse nets. Kitron explains that although the screens are designed to protect the crops, they can’t be sealed completely, since the plants need air. The pests that attack the crops are small enough to get through the holes in the screen.

“At the time there were a lot of problems with chives and other herbs,” says Kitron, “[and] countries returned the produce that was exported from Israel. The ministry of agriculture called out for help with exports going out, as the market value was declining unexpectedly. That was the motivation behind the product. The issue was that the insects attack such a big verity of plants, including vegetables and orchards. The main problem, apart from the esthetics and the market value are the virus vectors. The plant viruses carried by thrips and whiteflies terminate the plant, or cause the fruit that comes out [defective].”

Entire crops lost

Kitron claims that the problem is so severe, that pests are capable of causing a yield loss of 100 percent.

“The main focus at the moment is a net applied over greenhouses that camouflage or masks the crop fragrance,” explains Kitron. According to him, pests quickly become resistant to pesticide, to the point that “it’s like pouring water on them,” he says.

The reason that the company focused on masking the entire greenhouses and not individual plants, according to the founders, is that the regulatory process for plant-applied chemicals is long and complicated – even for natural substances. Eventually, Kitron estimates that the extract will be refined and will be deemed strong and safe enough to spray directly onto plants.

“The initial greenhouse general market makes $30 billion in total,” says Kitron. “We are looking to partner with a [strategic partner], a large chemical company, so that we can raise the funds that we need to be ready to begin sales in 2014.”

Kitron explains, “As far as we’ve seen, this product really falls into a niche. There isn’t anything that I know of that works in this way. Usually pesticides are aimed to kill or alter one of the stages which affect the lifecycle of the pest, but odor-masking and repellents are not very popular because they are not so efficient in their repellent effects. We need some more funds for research and development of the active ingredient for producing plans.”

In addition to the utilization of their product in the field of agriculture, EdenShield is also testing the potency of the product for a humanitarian project. If it works against thrips that attack tomatoes, why couldn’t it protect people against malaria-carrying mosquitoes or kissing bugs in developing countries? The kissing bug transmits chagas – a parasite that can cause organ damage and, eventually, death. It kills 20,000 people a year, and Forbes has called it the new AIDS of the developing world.

Initially funded with money from Israel’s Chief Scientist’s Office and the Mofet Venture Accelerator in Kiryat Arba, where EdenShield is based, Kitron currently seeks $1.7 million to take his company from the incubator stage to a commercial product.

The company intends to collaborate with greenhouse screen companies, and will license its product to pesticide companies.

Photo by: World Bank Photo Collection

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