NC State Professor Saad Khan is investigating ways to create a platform for crop protection from fungi and insects using biodegradable matrices derived from trees, and to tackle this problem at different fronts: leaves, seeds and seedlings. Dr. Khan and his colleagues aim to use cellulosics derived from trees to create two types of matrices, paper and nanocellulose based aqueous formulations to protect roots and leaves as a localized pesticide/fungicide delivery in a controlled manner minimizing environmental issues and enhancing efficacy.
Dr. Khan and his colleagues have developed a novel wrap and plant technology for smallholder farmers in Benin and Kenya and other parts of Africa. Their wrap and plant technology is based on wrapping seed or seed piece of potato and yams with a biodegradable matrix before planting it in the soil. The matrix is developed through a typical papermaking process from wastes of banana harvest and is loaded with a very low quantity of an active ingredient. Moreover, Dr. Khan has developed a facile approach by coating soybean seeds with agrochemicals loaded biopolymer-based electrospun nanofibers that are capable of sustained release of the pesticide and fungicide.
These innovations help improve crop quality and market value while sustainably managing the use of pesticides in an environmentally and economically efficient manner. As a result of the progress to date, Dr. Khan is extending the field trials beyond Kenya and Benin to other countries including Uganda, Ghana, Togo, and Nigeria This research has potential impacts in North Carolina where sweet potato and soybean crops are vulnerable as well. Several faculty members are involved including Dr. Charles Opperman from the Plant Pathology & Entomology department, Dr. Lokendra Pal from Forest Biomaterials, Dr. Daniel Coyne from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Kenya, and Dr. Antoine Affokpon from School of Plant Sciences, University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin. Dr. Khan reported two manuscripts published and an invention disclosure submitted to NC State. Dr. Khan also reported that Kenan Institute support helped leverage a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has prompted the foundation to fund further studies in this area of food security.