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New pest control method promises farmers high yields

Justus Monari, a farm manager at Kisii Agricultural Training Center sprays maize against Fall Army Worm on 22/4/2021. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Farmers in Kenya are experimenting with the “push-pull” method to deal with insects without having to use costly and polluting pesticides.

A study by World Agroforestry in collaboration with Biovision Africa Trust published September worked with 23 farmers in Western Kenya.

Researchers found that farmers who applied the push-pull method nearly doubled their yield.

The push-pull technology involves intercropping food plants with insect-repelling legumes of the Desmodium genus to push the bugs away, and ringing the plots with plants that attract, or pull, them even farther out.

Planting attractive forage plants such as Napier grass as a border to the crop is mostly encouraged.

Win-win for farmers

“While adoption of push-pull farming remains low, in part because of higher labour costs, it offers a win-win for farmers through higher yields and avoidance of chemical pesticides,” the report says.

According to studies, agrochemicals are some of the leading polluters of water bodies in rural Kenya, because they leach into rivers and lakes.

Moreover, produce that has been sprayed with chemicals may still be laced with residues of the substance when they are eaten.

“The intercrop emits a blend of compounds that repel, or “push” away, the pests, while the border plants emit semiochemicals that are attractive to the pests, or “pull” them toward the border,” the report says.

According to the report, there is a need for scaling up agroecology to promote sustainable agriculture at the global level.

Although recent studies show that agro-ecological approaches can achieve both high yields and profits compared with conventional systems, the performance of other socioeconomic indicators remains unknown.

The aim of this study was to identify the main characteristics of small-scale producers who represent the target groups of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“In particular, push-pull farmers are more focused on socially-oriented groups (75 per cent); moreover, they cultivate smaller plots (1.9 ha) compared to conventional farmers (3.1 ha) without showing a reduction in profitability. The benefits of adopting push-pull system indicated by farmers (diminished Striga weed) are consistent with the advantages reported in relevant scientific literature,” the study reads.

It added: “The push and pull technology does not harm soil and water sources, which are critical agricultural components. It is an ecological farming method that combines modern science and innovation with respect for nature and biodiversity.”

For years, farmers have been struggling with crop losses due to a combination of the stem borer and Striga, a genus of parasitic plants commonly known as witchweed.

According to a 2018 paper in Land Use Policy, the stem borer pest can cause crop losses of up to 88 per cent, while Striga can destroy an entire crop, even as farmers struggle with soil degradation.

The study in western Kenya also found that employing the push-pull technique can save farmers from many of these losses because it enhances soil fertility by taking in nitrogen and adding organic matter. This can lead to massive increases in crop yields.

While intercropping prevents the spread of Striga and other weeds, there are even more benefits: forage harvested from the Napier grass can increase milk production if the grass is fed to livestock.

Those using the technology also increased their overall income (both in crop and milk income) by 55 per cent compared with those that did not.

This can help farmers raise additional income while increased milk consumption at home may help meet their families’ nutritional needs, according to the report.

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