The overall decline in tobacco use around the world has hurt many tobacco farmers, but scientists have identified an alternative use for tobacco that could spark new life into the tobacco industry and revolutionize modern agriculture. According to a report published in the journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, tobacco has long been used as a natural, organic pesticide, and it could be the answer to the widespread use of outmoded, chemical pesticides that are destroying both health and the planet.
According to the report, small-scale farmers and even backyard gardeners have used tobacco, and nicotine in particular, for hundreds of years to deter and kill crop pests. Cedric Briens and his colleagues from the University of Western Ontario studied how tobacco works as a natural pesticide. They came to realize that it kills pests, inhibits bacterial growth, and fights harmful fungi.
Tobacco becomes a natural pesticide through pyrolysis, a technique that transforms its leaves into a potent “bio-oil” using high heat and vacuum pressure. The team tested this bio-oil on 11 different fungi species, four bacteria, and the Colorado potato beetle, a highly destructive agricultural pest that has become resistant to chemical pesticides. They discovered that not only was the solution effective against the beetle, but it also worked against some of the bacteria and fungi.
The report states that because of the unique equipment used in tobacco farming, it is difficult for tobacco farmers to transition to other crops. Many continue to produce it even though overall demand is in decline, which leaves many of them with excess crop every year that ends up going to waste. So using it as an alternative to harmful, chemical pesticides could not only turn the tobacco industry into a positive benefit on society, but also save the livelihoods of the farmers that grow it.
by Ethan A. Huff