The Agrimulchfilm Project
The conventional plastic mulch film is rarely recycled due to economic reasons and contamination. It can be assumed that almost all (100%) of the produced and utilised films end up as waste, either landfilled, stockpiled, or micronised in the soil/ aquatic system. The growth in the African mulch film market is driven by the need to boost crop productivity to feed the rising population. To address this challenge, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research CSIR), South Africa, is collaborating with Elizade University, Nigeria, in this to develop an alternative to Polyethylene (PE) mulch films in the form of biodegradable mulch films (BDM) by using locally available natural polymers such as starch and other additives to customise biodegradation rates of mulches, to replace the current non-biodegradable.
Driven by the need for sustainable production, the agricultural industry is beginning to shift to solutions that have a less negative environmental impact, have social benefits, and can be undertaken economically. Several factors are driving this change, including the environmental consciousness of the users of products, e.g., demands by certain users for organically produced food. Whereas fragments of the conventional plastic mulches persist in the soil as microplastics, the BDMs are fully biodegraded over time. Studies have suggested that microplastics could be detrimental to crop productivity due to alteration of the soil structure. BDMs represent a more environmentally sound solution whose value proposition can be extended to the crop product users.
The project is progressing as scheduled with the team having designed and produced at least three formulations to cover different crop lifecycles; optimised film production for the designed formulations; evaluated film performances; optimised starch modification process; and carried out stakeholder engagement to create awareness of BDMs. The ongoing focus is on reducing the cost of these formulations to be able to compete with the commercial PE mulch film.
As part of the business development for the project, the team is busy with ongoing advocacy activities in Nigeria, to create awareness of BDMs.