As modern living conditions and urban sprawl rapidly expand throughout the world and people converge on towns and cities for more opportunities to better their livelihoods, their new homes also become natural habitats for urban pests such as dust mites, cockroaches, fleas, and mosquitoes (World Health Organization (WHO), 2008). With increased livelihoods comes increased conveniences, and simple things such as carpets, wall insulation, and urban green spaces have changed many people’s lifestyles for the better but have also provided safe harbor for pests that are harbingers of dangerous diseases and health ailments (Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), 2008). Studies have shown that as income increases, so does harmful pests and invasive species (Journal of Applied Ecology, 2009). As gross domestic product increases and cities evolve, urban transport has developed to allow people to not only easily move within cities, but also across borders, which is breaking geographical boundaries and bringing pests along for the ride (First International Symposium on Biological Control of Arthropods, 2003).
To fight these pests and the harmful diseases that they can bring, an entire industry has developed around a product group: pesticides. Because many pesticides contain chemicals that are hazardous to humans, they are typically regulated by government agencies (WHO, 2008). Even with regulation and careful use, exposure to pesticides can occur via vapors, treated surfaces, or residues in water or food (WHO, 2008). Pesticides are needed to help deter the infestation of pests that can cause significant harm to health and food security (World Bank, 2005), however by removing one threat - pests - a new one can arise - pesticides - which can also cause harm to the environment (WHO, 2008). An ideal solution could be a pesticide that effectively manages pests but does not harm people or the environment.
In 2007 one chemist, Mr. Zeinou Abdelyamine, from the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria (Algeria), set out to do just that after returning from working over a decade in the United Arab Emirates. Undertaking research and development (R&D), Mr. Abdelyamine developed a non-toxic, natural pesticide that uses natural minerals that are not harmful to the environment or people (according to the company that the chemist founded). Protecting his invention with the intellectual property (IP) system in Algeria and internationally via the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the entrepreneur has effectively commercialized his invention through a company - Bit Bait Algeria (Bit Bait) - to help rid urban areas of harmful pests in an environmentally friendly manner.
A chemist by trade, in the late 1990s Mr. Abdelyamine was working on a project that resulted in a boric acid formula for use in the pesticide industry. Boric acid is a naturally occurring compound that is effective as a pesticide for insects and is relatively non-toxic for humans (Journal of Pesticide Reform, 2004). However, the formula that Mr. Abdelyamine’s team developed contained an unacceptable value of Lethal Dosage 50 - known as LD50 - which is a standard that measures the acute toxicity in pesticides (United States Environmental and Protection Agency (EPA), 2012). With an LD50 value that was too harmful to use, in 2001 the entrepreneur started a long process of R&D and developed a boric acid-based gel that does not use water or ingredients harmful to humans or domestic animals (Inspire Magazine, 2012).
Going further, Mr. Abdelyamine continued his R&D to manufacture pesticides using natural, safer ingredients (Inspire Magazine, 2012). Typically, the most popular pesticides in use target an insect or rodent’s central nervous system (WHO, 2008). However, over time insects and other pests are able to develop a resistance to many types of pesticides, which makes them harder to control, causing a wide range of new pesticides to be developed that can include an associated increased risk of decreased food security and soil degradation (Environmental Science & Policy, 2006).
To develop a pesticide that is safe, environmentally friendly, and does not lead to resistance, Mr. Abdelyamine’s R&D focused on using natural ingredients that are easily available almost anywhere and attacking an insect or rodent’s digestive system instead of their immune system (Inspire Magazine, 2012). According to the entrepreneur, the processes to make the pesticide does not require water or generate chemical waste, thus making it safe to produce. Following years of R&D, by the late 2000s Mr. Abdelyamine returned to Algeria to complete his invention and start commercialization efforts.
The result of the entrepreneur’s long R&D was a pesticide that only uses natural ingredients, is free of chemicals, and does not result in resistance. This occurs through a slow release pesticide that relies on gypsum as the exterminating agent. One of the most commonly used minerals, gypsum is a mineral with a rock-like appearance and is commonly used as a construction material for walls (plaster), cement, or a myriad of other construction materials, a soil additive, or even as a food filler (according to the United States Geological Survey and EuroGypsum). Although gypsum has been found to only be a mild irritant to humans (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2006), the inventor found that if insects and rodents ingest enough gypsum, it will have a slow, permanent and toxic effect on the digestive system of these pests.
Because gypsum naturally occurs in sedimentary rock formations and exhibits a hard, rocklike form (EuroGypsum, 2007) it is not a typical food source for pests. To make it attractive and edible, Mr. Abdelyamine’s invention combines a lethal level of gypsum for specific pests baked together with a food compound that is softened with either glycerin or vegetable oil. It is then processed into gels and pellets, and after an insect or rodent eats the pesticide, the food is digested but the gypsum is not, which causes eventual extermination. The amount of gypsum used in the product is enough to be lethal to insects and rodents but is harmless to humans, making it much safer than more conventional pesticides (according to the inventor’s company, Bit Bait). In addition, the inventor developed a production method for the new pesticide, which does not require water (important in areas where water is in short supply) or generate waste, making it safer to produce (Inspire Magazine, 2012).
Returning home with an invention in hand, Mr. Abdelyamine was determined to commercialize his product but faced financing challenges. Working with his sister, he was able to raise enough capital for initial manufacturing of his invention. In the early years the entrepreneur’s invention caught the attention of domestic and international media outlets, and in 2012 Mr. Abdelyamine was the runner up to Innovation Prize for Africa, where he received a US$50,000 prize for his invention (Innovation Prize for Africa, 2012). With this, he was able to increase production, modernize his facilities, and expand his market.
Working in the chemical field, Mr. Abdelyamine recognized early on the important role the intellectual property (IP) system plays in facilitating successful commercialization. To that end, he filed a patent application for his invention and production process with the Algerian National Institute of Industrial Property (INAPI), which was registered at INAPI as Patent #090020 (according to the company). This was followed up with an international patent application through the PCT system in 2009. Securing IP rights not only protects the entrepreneur’s invention, but it could lead to more investment, increased commercialization, and R&D into new products.
The Internet has been an important means for the entrepreneur to disseminate information about Bit Bait, develop financing opportunities, and commercialize the invention. In addition to maintaining a presence on major social networking services, the company has also secured an Internet domain name, bitbaitint.com, which has served to benefit the it’s online efforts.
Invention in hand, Mr. Abdelyamine returned to Algeria in 2007 and launched a start up, Bit Bait Algeria (Bit Bait). Working out of a small factory, the company started manufacture of its gypsum-based pesticide for personal and professional use. By 2014, Bit Bait products can be found in stores in Algeria in various forms: pellets, gels administered with a syringe, capsules, and larger blocks for rodents such as mice. According to the company it has three product lines, which include the gypsum-based Bit Bait, the boric acid-based pesticide (that Mr. Abdelyamine originally developed), and an extra strong pesticide using fipronil, a fast-acting chemical compound. All of the products are marketed under the company’s Bit Bait name.
Left uncontrolled, urban pests can have a significant detrimental effect on human and domestic animal health, our environment, and food security (WHO, 2008). Pests forage for food in urban environments, and as they do so they can carry pathogens that can cause asthma and transmit other serious health risks, including emerging diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (CIEH, 2008). Pests such as flies, cockroaches, and mites are some of the most common causes of food contamination (such as salmonella) - especially in food storage areas with inadequate protection - and this not only causes the food to be unsafe, but also brings health problems (Food Safety Magazine, 2012).
At the same time, the pesticides we use to rid ourselves of these dangers can also bring adverse effects. Many pesticides are also harmful to humans and domestic animals, and after use residue can be left on surface areas and exposed food, bring health and food security problems (European Environment Agency, 2010), as well as causing damage to regional environments (WHO, 2008).
If pests can be eliminated safely, without causing any harmful effects to the environment or human and domestic animal health, the level of food security and public health could increase. Furthermore, data has also shown that slow acting pesticides are safer and more effective (WHO, 2008). Made of natural ingredients that are not harmful and feature a slow acting nature, Mr. Abdelyamine’s invention has the potential to eliminate dangerous pests safely in a slow acting manner, thus possibly bettering food security and public health, especially in emerging economy countries (Innovation Prize for Africa, 2012).
Speaking to the African Innovation Foundation, Mr. Abdelyamine said that his goal is to introduce a new technology that will solve food security issues in a safe manner and competitive price and show that Africans can develop solutions themselves to issues that they face. With the successful invention and commercialization of Bit Bait, the entrepreneur has indeed shown just that, which was validated by winning the runner-up award of the 2012 Innovation Prize for Africa. With Bit Bait successfully commercialized in Algeria, automated manufacturing processes in development, and Mr. Abdelyamine’s sights set on international expansion (Inspire Magazine, 2012) the chemist’s start-up company could be poised for continued success.
With urbanization growing at a fast pace worldwide like never before (according to the United Nations Population Fund), protecting these environments and the people that live in them from food and health concerns has become increasingly important. As the pest population also increases and crosses borders, controlling them safely is one way this can be achieved. The natural, gypsum-based pesticide invention that Mr. Abdelyamine has developed, made the subject of domestic and international patent, applications and commercialized is an example of how pests can be controlled to increase food security, protect the environment, and contribute to safer conditions for urban communities.
This case study is based on information from: