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The ‘smoking hot’ solutions farmers use against pests

By Joseph Muchiri | Published Sat, September 1st 2018 at 08:32, Updated September 1st 2018 at 08:35 GMT +3
Daniel Musili explains to students from Meru University of Science and Technology how preservation of grains using hot pepper and ash is done at Catholic Diocese of Embu-Caritas headquarters. (Joseph Muchiri, Standard)

Farmers in Embu County have devised creative and cost-effective ways to fight pests such as fall army worm.

The 23-member Mwirutiri Self-Help Group led by Ms Dorothy Nyaguthii claim they have successfully dealt with fall army worm invasions using a concotion of ash, hot pepper and tobacco.

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“We collect the cooled off ash and sieve the debris. For every two 2kg container of ash, we mix two teaspoonful of red pepper and three teaspoonful of tobacco. We apply it in the evening since the pest eats maize at night,” explains Nyaguthii.

How they prepare it

She says the ash emits an aroma that attracts the pest to eat while tobacco enables the mixture to stick on the maize plant.

“We apply once every week for about three times to control it. The first application kills the young army worms. The second one kills the big ones while the third application kills their eggs,” says Nyaguthii.

The knowledge was imparted on them under a programme run by Caritas — the development arm of the Catholic Diocese of Embu.

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The knowledge stretches further- the members are also using hot pepper and ash to preserve grains for up to one year, and if the grains are for replanting, they add tobacco to extend shelf life for two years.

Grain preservation

On grain preservation, Daniel Musili from Mbeere region has been preserving maize, millet, sorghum and beans using ground hot pepper and ash.

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“This method is affordable and easy to use. The first step is ensuring that the grains are well dried. Then you mix in the ratio of 1kg of dry to one tablespoonful of red pepper and two tablespoonful of ash. Mix them thoroughly and store in a silo or in an airtight container,” he says.

Musili says farmers prefer storing the planting seeds in a guard which they close using cow dung. Before cooking or milling for consumption, the grains are first washed and dried to remove the preservatives.

According to Caritas, the simple technologies have caught the attention of local universities and researchers from Germany.

Farmers demonstrate the various improvised techniques they use to fight pests and enrich soil to Agricultural Education and Extension students from Meru University of Science and Technology. (Joseph Muchiri, Standard)

Recently, Agricultural Education and Extension students from Meru University of Science and Technology attended an exhibition of those technologies at the Embu Caritas headquarters where they learnt from the farmers.

Early this year, the group exhibited their products during a forum at the University of Embu.

Embu Caritas Director Fr Alex Mate says the cultural methods of pest control and enriching soil with nutrients are working.

“We have more of these ideas which need to be developed further to major innovations that can be used to solve our problems,” he says.

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Cultural methods

Meru University agricultural education and extension lecturer Joshua Thambura praised the technologies for empowering farmers economically.

He calls on Caritas to partner with the university to do more research on these solutions.

But what does the State have to say about this innovation?

Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) Embu station research officer Johnson Nyasani says even though the cultural methods of pest control work, research on the efficacy and safety of tobacco and pepper extracts is needed.

“The efficacy trails would determine safety of the grains to consumers seeing that in some incidences substances such as a tobacco are being used. It would also show how beneficial insects that feed on the fall armyworm are affected,” he stresses.

The farmers also make organic fertiliser.

In making foliar fertiliser, Ibrahim Muriithi uses a variety of shrubs that are readily available in the locality. First he chops them into small pieces and dips in water and stores in an airtight container for 14 days.

He sieves the compound using an old mosquito net or a gunny bag. He mixes one litre of the resultant liquid for every 20 litres of water.

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“The foliar fertiliser has been effective in controlling pests. It’s cheap to use and has no waiting time. I can spray my vegetables and consume them the same day,” he says.

The group also make cow dung briquettes, candles and soap using bee wax.

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