Scientists at the Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (CTCRI) here have developed a bio-pesticide from tapioca leaves that is effective in protecting coconut and banana crops.

A research team led by C.A. Jayaprakas, Principal Scientist (Entomology), fabricated a pilot plant for extraction of bio-pesticide from tapioca leaves. The pesticide solution was found to be effective against noxious borer pests like red palm weevil in coconut and pseudo stem weevil in banana.

According to Dr. Jayaprakas, a large quantity of biomass, including leaves and tuber rinds, are discarded after the harvest of tapioca. While the leaves are a storehouse of proteins and other nutritive compounds, they cannot be used as animal feed or for other purposes because of the presence of certain toxins in them.

The research team managed to isolate the bioactive molecules from the leaves, tuber rinds and tender twigs of tapioca. The eco-friendly insecticide solution formulated from the biomass has been named Nanma.

According to Dr. Jayaprakas, a kg of tapioca leaf yields up to eight litres of the bio-pesticide. He said field-trials had proved that Nanma was more effective than chemical pesticides like Furidan, yet devoid of the health hazards associated with exposure to chemical insecticides.

The leaves, after extraction of bio-pesticide, are free of toxins. The researchers are exploring the possibility of using the nutritive by-product as animal feed. The three-member team including research scholars L. Ragesh and R.S. Sreerag has applied for a patent on the technology.

The pilot plant was established with technical support provided by the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre under the Indian Space Research Organisation. The Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE) extended financial assistance. The plant was commissioned on Friday at a function held on the CTCRI campus. B. Velaudham, Deputy Director, VSSC inaugurated the unit. S.K. Nasker, Director, CTCRI, presided over the function. C.T.S. Nair, Executive Vice-President, KSCSTE, switched on the plant.

Dr. Jayaprakas and the team was working on developing a technology to utilise the waste gases from the process to produce a bio-fumigant for potential use in godowns where food grains are stored. The scientists have fabricated the prototype of a fumigation chamber and efforts are on to develop a system to fill the fumigant in cylinders. The project is being executed with technical assistance from the Defence Research and Development Organisation.