Safer fruit and veg: bio-pesticide spin-out company wins 'watchdog' accreditation

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A Swansea University-based high-tech spin-out company has just received accreditation under the Official Recognition of Efficacy Testing facilities or Organisations (ORETO) scheme for efficacy testing in Biologicals and Semiochemicals categories.

It means Bionema Ltd now has a major advantage in a rapidly emerging market - opening up new International business opportunities.

The SME, which was established in 2012 with support from the Research, Engagement & Innovation Services team at Swansea University develops bio-pesticides for the agricultural/horticultural market. 

One example of a Bionema product is a bio-pesticide developed to control an immediate pest of the strawberry, known as western flower thrips, which cause an estimated £15m worth of damage to the crop per annum in the UK alone.

Bio-pesticides are the natural alternative to toxic chemicals - plants, bacteria, fungi and minerals for the control of insect pests which attack food and other crops of all kinds.  They are less toxic than chemical pesticides, decompose rapidly and can be targeted at specific pests to avoid harming beneficial insects.

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Picture:  Dr Minshad Ansari (l) and Dr Gerry Ronan (r) with fungus, which can be used as a biopesticide.

It is a requirement of European regulations that the tests and analyses required to demonstrate the efficacy of plant protection products must be conducted by ‘Official’ or ‘Officially Recognised’ testing facilities or organisations.

The certification, which will last for 5 years, will enable the spinout to develop their own market ready bio-pesticides and support them in winning contracts to provide training and efficacy trials in bio-pesticides to the biological and agrochemical industry.  

Dr Minshad Ansari, founder and managing director of Bionema, which operates out of the Institute of Life Sciences at the Swansea University campus, said:  

“EU legislation and consumer led demand means growers have to reduce the use of chemical pesticides in crop production to grow fruits and vegetables with reduced detectable residues.

This accreditation gives us the opportunity to become a UK leader in helping develop this important new way of controlling the increasing number of insect pests across the UK.”  

With Dr Ansari’s ambition to grow Bionema’s turnover by 20 per cent a year, create at least 10 jobs over the next three years, and expand into International markets, Bionema Ltd has been accepted on to the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme.

There are 75 organisations across the UK with ORETO Certification, most involved in the production of agrochemicals, but only a small handful of businesses operating within the bio-pesticide market with this accreditation, giving the recently established SME a major advantage in a rapidly emerging market.

Dr Gerry Ronan, Head of Commercial Services at Swansea University, said:

“It is very encouraging to see the progress Bionema has made in such a short space of time. To receive this internationally recognised ORETO certification in an important emerging market is testament to the hard work, dedication and expertise of the team and we look forward to supporting them as they continue to expand.”

The worldwide traditional chemical crop protection market was worth an estimated US$55 billion in 2014. Whilst the bio-pesticides market is considerably smaller at US$2.2 billion in 2014 - but is forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 16 per cent, reaching US$4.4 billion by 2019 (

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Picture:  (l-r) Kevin Fernquest of the Swansea University Institute of Life Science; Dr Minshad Ansari, company founder; Dr Gerry Ronan, head of commercial services, Swansea University.

Basing the company in the Institute of Life Science at the University has provided a solid platform on which to grow the Bionema brand and provided a number of additional benefits not normally associated with a start-up company, such as its establishment, product development and growth of a business.

Dr Minshad Ansari said:   

“We’ve research facilities and expertise at our fingertips that has given us a large amount of credibility within our industry, right from the start.  

We have received substantial support from Swansea University through the Research, Engagement & Innovation Services team and the Institute of Life Sciences.  This has ranged from access to glasshouse testing facilities, to support with logistics, research, office space, testing equipment, funding support, leadership training, legal advice, patent support and student work placements.

Partnering with the University has meant we can capitalise on the expertise on-site whilst providing practical experience to students studying bio-pesticides.   

I am very passionate about developing new bio-pesticide products which can solve a problem and hope in partnering with Swansea University in this field, we can support Swansea in becoming a Welsh Centre of Excellence in Biological Control.”