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Systemic Change in Crop Protection


Crop protection products and services act as inputs to the production of vegetables that many farmers are aware of but few have a detailed understanding of. It is the most technical element of crop production with entire crops lost to both under and overuse. In general, chemical pesticides have proven to be transformative in protection against pests, weeds, and diseases. The potential loss from these factors is estimated at 80% with actual losses at around one third of total production globally. Effective crop protection – pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides together with manual measures – can reduce losses by up to two thirds (Oerke, 2006).

Evidence from many developing countries has shown that once pesticides are introduced to an area, their use spreads rapidly and they quickly become the sole source of action for treatment and protection of all pests and diseases (Ntow et al., 2006; Ngowi et al., 2007).

The negative impacts on farmers’ livelihoods created by this are many and are often underestimated. Firstly, there is the damage to the crop. Crops which are over-treated with chemical pesticides can easily be damaged or destroyed. Secondly, humans too can be severely affected by exposure to pesticides. The first element of this is in direct exposure as a farmer to harmful chemicals. A great number of production days are lost and medical costs are incurred due to illnesses caused by exposure to pesticides. Another impact on human health and the third impact on farmers’ livelihoods is through consumption. Pesticide residues in developing countries often reach dangerous levels and in recognition of this, produce which is seen as potentially over-treated will sell for a lower price in the market. Finally, the cost of pesticides is high and the more you use, the more it costs. Overuse of pesticides can, therefore, substantially increase the overall cost of production (Abhilash and Singh, 2009).

Crop protection in Bangladesh experiences the same problems of lack of access to appropriate technologies, lack of use, and lack of quality seen in other agricultural inputs. Katalyst recognised these issues and began to address them on several fronts. Unlike with seeds, there was a clear and basic problem with the knowledge and skills of farmers. While perceptions in seeds prevented farmers from using certain products, the origin of the problem here was not in the product but in the practice. In fact, in many cases the objective was to get farmers to use less chemical pesticide and not more. The programme therefore approached that issue as part of a wide ranging approach to tackle agricultural skills through information. Indeed, Katalyst recognised this as an issue as early as 2006, when a retailer training programme was developed which aimed to utilise retailers as a conduit for information on appropriate products and dosages. This was not as successful as had been hoped as there remained a fundamental incentives problem, as advising reduced usage was not in the best interests of the retailer, particularly in the short term.

Another strategy adopted by Katalyst was at a national level. There was a problem with the skills of actors in the sector which were needed as a prerequisite to improving the sector’s performance. Here, Katalyst saw the need to address this in a direct manner as a one-off activity which would secure the potential for other interventions to succeed. As such, Katalyst supported the Bangladesh Crop Protection Association (BCPA) to develop a training curriculum for its members so that they could participate in an informed discussion about the sector and begin to play the appropriate coordination and advocacy role.

While other interventions relevant to the vegetable sector sought to address a knowledge gap regarding good agricultural practice, Katalyst recognised that there was an opportunity to create a market where providers of products had the incentive to deliver this embedded service directly in the crop protection area. While it may have been effective to reduce the usage of chemical crop protection products, it was difficult to perceive of an actor with the incentive to do so. From the regulatory side, the government actors who might have an interest from a public health perspective were weak, and from the programme’s pro-poor perspective, reducing chemical pesticide use without proper guidance towards an alternative would potentially open up poor farmers to further crop damage. As such it was decided that this had to be a product focused push strategy; there had to be a commercial actor with the incentive to promote the reduction in chemical pesticide use in order for the change to be sustainable. As such, Katalyst decided to focus on the introduction of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) technologies which have the potential to replace chemical pesticides.

Defining the innovation

Katalyst identified three related and underperforming supporting functions or rules to the IPM system in Bangladesh. The first was a structural one; the regulatory framework was not in place to allow IPM products to be offered commercially. Other than this, the problems displayed in seed were similarly evident here. Within this IPM products market, marketing and distribution functions were not operating effectively. People in poor and rural areas did not have access to IPM products because potential distributors did not see the market, but the market did not exist as there was no effective marketing to demonstrate the potential cost-effectiveness of the products.

On the first issue, Katalyst set about bringing all of the key stakeholders in the sector together in order to begin dialogue on what was a relatively new sector. This was an activity that was required to secure buy-in for future work and was necessary if the sector as a whole was to have any chance of developing. The IPM forum, as it was known, featured discussions on research on appropriate IPM products, legislation, potential conflict between the objectives of companies in the sector, and finally the perspectives of farmers. The product was a policy recommendation in 2010, the release of which coincided with an amendment to the “The Pesticide Rule 1985” allowing for the commercial marketing of IPM products.

After a brief period of evaluation where it appeared the market was not responding to this driver of change, Katalyst actively sought to intervene in the underperforming marketing and distribution functions. The innovation here was to change farmers’ crop protection practices through making alternative technologies both available and attractive to them.

The purpose of Katalyst here, unlike in seeds, was market creation as there was very little private provision of IPM products. As such, Katalyst sought a partner who had the appetite to enter the space and create the market. The dangers of monopoly creation, while real, were outweighed by the fact that the market leader was the only potential partner with the capacity in terms of skills, capital and entrepreneurship to create this market. The skills that the partner did not possess, and the reason they had not entered the market in any significant way to date, were knowledge of the exact products appropriate to rural audiences and how to market them.

Katalyst built on the learning from the seed sector to develop appropriate marketing materials to be used by their partner, who committed financial and personnel resources. Almost 20 cluster demonstration plots were set up in different parts of the country on a limited basis, focusing on a limited range of pheromone-related products. An innovative and very positive tactic used in this intervention was the inclusion of extension agents or sub-Assistant Agricultural Officers (SAAOs). These government employees have significant outreach and credibility among farmers. The private firm demonstrating the benefits of IPM to the SAAOs, both those techniques using commercial products and those which do not, allowed for significant awareness raising which was aligned to the incentives of the SAAOs – to increase productivity at a low cost to farmers. At that time, no commercial licence was available for IPM products and so the potential for further promotion was limited.

While initially positive, the results at the firm level have proven challenging, with low profit margins. However, the firm did see potential in the market and so the intervention was valuable in raising the awareness in the private sector of the market potential. This was partially as the intervention also served a technical purpose; the partner was able to see that proper use of IPM actually delivered increases in yield, in addition to all the health, soil quality, and sales benefits which might be realised in the long run by farmers.

By this point, Katalyst had confidence that the business model made sense and this partner had both the incentives and capacities to overcome marketing and distribution constraints. However, this innovation, as a trial, was focused on more accessible areas and more commercially-oriented poor farmers. So nascent was the market that, although Katalyst felt that the market leader they had assisted would encourage others to the market and ensure increased access and use of IPM products in the overall market, the registration, marketing and distribution challenges in more peripheral areas were more significant and would take far longer to overcome. As such, Katalyst began to develop the innovation further to ensure that the benefits were expanded to new groups.

This intervention involved using the same combination of innovative marketing techniques but having a nationwide approach. Here, the same partner who was already engaged in IPM was once again part of the intervention. However, to avoid monopoly creation and to encourage innovation, another partner was engaged on different terms. This intervention is in its very early stages and only the activities themselves have been recorded.


ABHILASH, P. & SINGH, N. 2009. Pesticide use and application: An Indian scenario. Journal of hazardous materials, 165, 1-12.

NGOWI, A., MBISE, T., IJANI, A., LONDON, L. & AJAYI, O. 2007. Smallholder vegetable farmers in Northern Tanzania: Pesticides use practices, perceptions, cost and health effects. Crop Protection, 26, 1617-1624.

NTOW, W. J., GIJZEN, H. J., KELDERMAN, P. & DRECHSEL, P. 2006. Farmer perceptions and pesticide use practices in vegetable production in Ghana. Pest management science, 62, 356-365.

OERKE, E.-C. 2006. Crop losses to pests. The Journal of Agricultural Science, 144, 31-43.


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