A brown-skinned woman with black har wearing safety glasses and a white lab coat, black shirt, is smiling and posing. She is holding a pothos plant in her hands. The plant is in a white pot with white and green leaves.
Biocontrol consultant, Meshal Mustafa, holds a plant in the lab. (Photograph by Emma Davison)

Topics: April/May 2024, Ethical Living | Environment

Making a buzz with beneficial bugs

Ontario family business uses biocontrol to fight pests naturally without using chemical pesticides


Meshal Mustafa is reshaping sustainable farming with help from insects. Growing up in Pakistan with parents who worked as entomologists at a local university, she developed a fascination with bugs from a young age, often gravitating toward mounted insects over regular toys. In 2014, inspired by years of research, her family founded GrowLiv, a beneficial insectary in Amherstburg, Ont., that breeds bugs to help farmers fight pests without chemical pesticides.

Motivation: A decade ago, using insects for pest control wasn’t common. But my dad comes from a family of farmers and saw the problems that can arise from pesticides. DDT, for example, was banned in Canada in the ’80s because of how bad it was for the environment, and it’s still in our soil to this day. Both of my parents have PhDs in entomology. They studied in Pakistan and then started working as assistant professors while running their own research trials. They quickly realized that biocontrol had a lot of potential. That’s where this idea started brewing. 

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Beginnings: The university my parents worked at had housing for faculty, so that’s where I grew up. As a kid, I used to play with the mounted insects that were in the classroom. I found them fascinating. I ended up doing my degree in business and now I handle that side of the company, while my parents create the product. We started with one insect, a green lacewing, and now we breed and sell 17 different predators that can take down pests without harming crops.

Necessity: Pesticides have been the dominant player when it comes to growing crops at scale since World War II. But pests are becoming more resistant to chemicals, which is making pesticides less and less effective. This doesn’t happen with specialized predators. We teach farmers that even in their greenhouses, there’s an ecosystem. If they can master it, then they have access to a sustainable long-term solution to pest management.

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Impact: In less than a decade, our company has become the largest commercial insectary in North America. We have successfully helped 25 percent of greenhouses in Leamington, Ont., convert to biocontrol as their first line of defence. Our long-term goal is to provide beneficial insects worldwide.


Jasmine Mahoro is a writer living in Toronto.

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