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Natural solutions: Walloon company develops efficient, eco-friendly alternative to pesticides

18:55 07/06/2019

Protecting crops like potatoes using natural solutions instead of harmful pesticides, without compromising the yield: that’s the goal of an award-winning Walloon enterprise.

Today’s agricultural sector falls into two major categories based on two strategies. There is the traditional one, using pesticides to achieve a high yield of crops at a low cost, and the organic one, which works with natural methods but cannot achieve the same productivity.

Medinbio, based at Crealys Science Park in Gembloux, Namur province, works according to a third way, which combines the best of both worlds: the bio-intensive agriculture approach. The company has just received Walloon funding to support a prestigious project on bio-insecticides.

“We developed ways to cultivate crops with natural methods without a reduction of the yield and an increase of the costs,” says founder and CEO Thierry Picaud. “The trick is to boost the self-defence mechanisms of plants so they can protect themselves against pests and diseases without needing chemical additives.”

Reducing pesticides is better for our health and the environment, but it also makes sense economically. “It’s known that pesticides have toxic parts that are small but can have big effects as they pile up in your body,” says Picaud. “The stress caused by the chemicals also affects the strength of plants, so our method produces an even better yield of crops of a higher quality.”

Medinbio developed micro-organisms and plant extracts to enhance a plant’s natural defence mechanisms. These innovations have already led to concrete successes on fruits and vegetables. One, called Euclean, controls mildew – the leading potato disease – without the use of chemicals. Instead it uses a solution composed of plants rich in essential oils and minerals. The company has also turned heads with a product for strawberries.

Many of these achievements have benefited large agri-food companies elsewhere. Exports represent 95% of Medinbio’s activity, especially to France. In recognition of its accomplishments, the company received the prestigious Marianne de Cristal award, which rewards a Walloon enterprise that has an excellent commercial relationship with France. Medinbio is also valued in its own region.

The Walloon government recently approved a subsidy of about €1.3 million, via its WALInnov programme, to the Biofungi project that Medinbio set up with research departments of the universities of Liège and Louvain. “The goal is to develop a toolkit with different sorts of bio-insecticides which can be used in different kinds of situations, to protect plants against specific insect pests,” explains Picaud. The project will last four years.

Medinbio is not the first enterprise set up by Picaud, who is from France but came to Belgium as a student. In France, he founded Phytosynthese, which developed natural additives to enhance the feed of livestock – and thus provided an alternative to chemicals and antibiotics. The company is now part of the French Lehning Group. “The goal of both companies is the same: reducing the amount of chemicals  in our environment,” says Picaud. “Although lobbyists try to convince us of the opposite, there are eco-friendly alternatives that work efficiently.”

This article was first published in the Wab magazine

Written by Andy Furniere