Pest control industry turns to tech in bid to win rat race

Pest control officers fogging Simon Place after the first Zika cluster of the year was reported there, on March 30, 2017.
Pest control officers fogging Simon Place after the first Zika cluster of the year was reported there, on March 30, 2017.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Drones which locate termites in hard-to-access spots in buildings and sensors that capture the movement of rats are among new high-tech weapons being adopted by pest control companies to solve age-old problems.

Innovative solutions like these are also helping to overcome issues plaguing the pest control industry such as manpower shortages and low productivity.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said on Wednesday (April 24) that the sector will be the latest to come under the Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map, which was launched in December 2017 to drive innovation and raise productivity in the cleaning and waste management sectors.

He was speaking as guest of honour at the two-day Singapore Urban Pest Management Forum, organised by Singapore Pest Management Association (SPMA).

Mr Masagos added that the three sectors share similar challenges, and that the integration will allow businesses to achieve greater efficiency.

"As our economy and consumption continue to grow, service demands and public expectations over performance standards will increase," he said.

"Climate change may also lead to escalation of pest and vector issues. We may see a higher incidence of vector-borne diseases such as dengue."

"Pest management businesses and employees must therefore innovate continuously, adopt new technologies, and improve efficiency and productivity to meet new challenges."

Mr Gavin Raj, managing director of pest control service Verminator, said that using technology like thermal imaging is more effective in identifying infestations than "primitive" methods such as looking for them with the naked eye.

Besides boosting efficiency, technology can also act as a draw for younger, tech-savvy talent to the labour-intensive industry, according to PMA president Andrew Chan.

"If you want fresh graduates to go out on the field spraying (pesticides) - I think that's totally impossible," he said.

"But if you have new technologies, or smart systems, where the data collected can be sent back to the office for them to study, they will be more interested."

Technology is also being used to develop eco-friendly products used in pest management, such as less toxic pesticides.

Mr Heng Yiwei, managing director of Agro Technic, a supplier of pest management solutions, said that there is a rising demand for greener solutions as more consumers become environmentally conscious.

""It used to be that the consumer would pay the pest control company a lump sum of money and say, 'get the problem settled'. These days, people will ask about the chemicals used, and check online whether it's dangerous. More and more people don't mind paying a little more if it's safer and greener."