Dusk is fast enveloping the land as two women wearing improvised face masks move from one maize plant to another and apply a concoction meant to kill the destructive fall armyworms.
The women have been using the concoction of red pepper, ash and tobacco to tame the pest in Gatateri, Mbuvori location.
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Their maize is green and healthy, with only a few plants showing traces of having been attacked by the worms.
The inexpensive pest control method they are using is becoming popular with local farmers faced with heavy losses from the worms.
The majority of the 23 members of Mwirutiri Self Help Group have experimented with the method and claim it has worked on their maize crop.
Dorothy Nyaguthii, the group's chairperson, said they used firewood to cook, which gave them enough ash. She said they got red pepper from their farms. Tobacco is sourced from local markets at Sh10 for the smallest pack.
“We collect the cooled off ash and sieve the debris. For every two 2kg container of ash, we mix two teaspoons of red pepper and three teaspoons of tobacco,” she said.
Ms Nyaguthii explained that when the armyworms came in contact with the red pepper, the resulting burning sensation killed them. It also adversely affected their ability to lay eggs.
She said the ash emitted a smell that attracted the pests to come and eat while tobacco enabled the mixture to stick on the maize plant.
“We apply the mixture at around 6.30pm because the pest usually eats the maize at night. We apply it once every week about three times to control the pests. The first application kills the young worms. The second one kills the big ones and the third kills the eggs,” said Nyaguthii.
The women learnt the cultural method from the development arm of the Catholic Diocese of Embu-Caritas at the onset of this planting season.
Lucy Wanjohi, who uses the concoction, said she lost nearly her whole crop to the worms in the last season as she could not afford to buy pesticides.
The women however said the method was laborious and they had to wear face masks to prevent sneezing from inhaling the potent mixture.
Diocese Assistant Director John Munene said the concoction had helped many farmers.
But Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation Embu station research officer Johnson Nyasani said even if the method was working, it needed to be subjected to efficacy trials first.