Killer wasps! Fear not—this isn't the movies. These predatory insects are the good guys, programmed to target only their natural enemy (which is not your scrawny behind). Bug Agentes Biológicos mass-produces wasps to combat larvae and stinkbugs that threaten sugarcane and soybean plants, two of Brazil's largest cash crops. This past year, Bug perfected a way to spray its wasps onto soy fields, just as pesticides are spread via airplane. "We can liberate the insects in the right dose, at the right speed, and with the right protection so they can be effective," says Francisco Jardim, a Brazilian VC who has invested in Bug and sits on its board. Wasps, for example, need to be protected until their wings grow big enough for flight, or else ants present a threat. (Isn't nature grand?)
Bug's timing feels right. Brazil is the world's third-largest agricultural exporter (behind the United States and EU); it recently passed the U.S. as the largest consumer of pesticides. Yet the country has begun to phase out the more noxious chemical pesticides Brazilian farmers use despite diminishing effectiveness. Bug has the only alternative approved by Brazilian agricultural, health, and environmental ministries. It's currently at 100% capacity with plans in 2012 to double the acreage it covers.
Bug describes its wasps to farmers as a preventative solution that eliminates pests as eggs, forestalling full-blown infestations. It also eschews selling to small organic farmers in favor of Brazil's agribusiness giants, such as global sugarcane producers Royal Dutch Shell. "Our potential," says Jardim, "is Brazil's entire $7 billion pesticide market."
Illustration by Bill Mayer