The Ghent based company Biotalys received 5 million euros from the American entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Gates to develop a biological agent against moulds on legumes. Cercospora canescens is a fungus causing leaf spot disease in 'cowpeas', a family of beans of which the black-eyed peas - the white beans with black spots - are the best known.
These beans are a staplefood in Africa and a daily source of affordable protein to 200 million people. Although better varieties have been developed over the years, leaf spot disease is still a major concern for smallhold farmers in Africa. This one fungus can cause up to 40 per cent of the harvest to fail.
Biotalys receives the money over a period of four years as conditions are met. Biotalys has committed to selling the end product to African farmers at 'an affordable price'. This does not mean that it is a zero sum operation for Biotalys in the long run. At the end of the initial four year period, Biotalys should have a working substance ready. Another four years will be needed to optimise the dose and carry out all kinds of field tests.
The anti-mould product could be on the market in eight years' time. The antifungal agent could also be used in sugar beet production.