Winning proposal for Green and Sustainable Chemistry Challenge improves Malaysian rice paddy yield

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

Researchers show that using a biopesticide can be safer and more effective than traditional pesticides

Field trial visit to the Center of Excellence for Rice in Malaysia, left to right: Shahrizal Abdul, Rob van Daalen, Raudhah Talib, Dr. Suzana Yusup, Noor Hafizah Ramli and Abu Bakar Ahmad.

Rice is an important crop in Malaysia, yet the indiscriminate use of pesticides has caused health problems for many farmers. Meanwhile, almost half of them live below the poverty level, causing many to leave the field for other kinds of work. These challenges inspired a group of researchers in Malaysia to find a safer, more sustainable means of pest control that would also boost crop yield, raising farmers’ incomes and encouraging them to stay in this much-needed profession.

At the same time they were doing their field trials, we initiated the Elsevier Foundation Green and Sustainable Chemistry Challenge, inviting researchers around the world to submit innovative ideas with practical applicability. Of the nearly 500 proposals, one wasfrom these researchers in Malaysia.

Dr. Suzana Yusup addresses farmers and villagers in an engagement session at Pertubuhan Peladang Kawasan Bota.

Their proposal — “Biopesticides for improved paddy yield” — went on to become a winner. The project, a collaborative effort between the university and the Malaysian Agriculture Department as well as Bio-X Techno, showed how biopesticides can be used to increase the yield of rice crops without the dangerous health effects associated with chemical pesticides.

Because of my involvement in the challenge, lead researcher Dr. Suzana Yusup, Associate Professor in the Chemical Engineering Department of the Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS, Malaysia, recently invited me to have a look at the results of the field trials. She said the award has had a significant impact on their project:

“It gave internal recognition and the opportunity to enhance our research to support the global (UN) SDGs. It captured public attention, particularly the farmers, on the importance of the application of green and sustainable methods for improving paddy yield. The research support received through Elsevier Foundation also enables us to accelerate our research in a trans-disciplinary manner, collaborating with people from industry, farmers, governmental bodies and social sciences.”