A group of Farmers in Eastern Kenya, pushed by the ever increasing price of pesticides, have developed home-made pest control solutions with impressive results., a practice they are teaching fellow farmers from Iringa area of Tanzania, a move that has assisted them to recover 60 per cent of the crop they were losing to pests,
but their initiative is now spreading like wildfire among Rwanda and Uganda farmers while providing impetus for the scientific improvement and packaging of the existing indigenous knowledge base by scientific research institutions.The farmers who specialize in cereals, legumes and horticultural farming had been relying on synthetic pesticides in grappling with 15 per cent to 100 per cent pre-harvest crop losses and 10 per cent to 60 per cent post-harvest food grain losses. Their investments in non performing synthetic pesticides added to their disappointment.
But one farmer, Lawrence Awiti, a graduate from the University of Nairobi’s Department of Agricultural Economics, aware of the suffering of his community, five years ago organized the farmers into group and with the help of scientists started trying out all possible organic pest control methods.
The home made pest control solutions come at a time when a report by America Pest Control indicates that pesticides worth more than $30bn are being intentionally released into the global environment every year, with majority of this happening in Africa.
A high proportion of these chemicals are highly toxic and have immediate adverse effects on human health, wildlife, local food sources, such as cattle or fish, beneficial insects and biodiversity. Some of them have chronic effects, including cancers, reproductive problems, birth defects, hormonal disruption and damage to the immune system.
Impacts come from direct exposure in use, spray drift, washing work clothes used while spraying, home pesticide storage, pesticide dumps, and persistence in the environment.
“Chemical insecticides might be effective at killing garden pests, but their toll on children, family pets and the environment could be long term. When ants, slugs, cockroaches and aphids start winning the war in the garden of good and evil - a farmer may turn to chemical pesticides as a swift counter attack.
However, repeated exposure to pesticides can cause serious cumulative health effects if used in poorly-ventilated areas or without following proper instructions for handling and application. We have been discouraging use of synthetic pesticides,” said Awiti.
As a result, farmers are now reporting that they are spoilt for choice as they enjoy a variety of organic methods at almost zero cost. From ash, cowdung, traditional brew and kerosene oils, the home-made control methods are now becoming a buzz word across farming communities in Kenya.
The practice of applying a thin paste made of cowdung, clay and cow urine, has become one of the favourite pest control methods among the farmers. A fine slurry is prepared by thoroughly mixing the components in a container. The paste is then applied manually using bare hands or a locally made brush. Cowdung and cow urine possess complex degrading substances and may possess anti bacterial properties. The addition of clay results in better adhesion of the constituents to the treated surface.
The sealing of plant wounds or cuts with the mixture also prevents the access of pathogens to otherwise exposed surfaces, meaning that the paste is also being used for the treatment of cankered limbs of the trees. The entire effected region is removed by a disinfected knife and is then covered with freshly prepared cowdung paste. The application of the paste is a laborious procedure and proper sealing of the injured region is required.
Another powerful recipe is kerosene oil which has helped reduce stem borer, one of farmers’ biggest headaches. Farmers have been using kerosene oil to kill the tissue borers by using a flexible metallic wire, which is inserted through the hole made by the borer. A small bung made of cloth soaked in kerosene oil is then inserted into the hole and finally it is plugged using a paste of cowdung and clay.
The insertion of the metallic wire into the stem borer’s gallery causes physical injury to the larvae. The oil vapour emanating gradually from the cloth bung also fills the closed gallery, suffocating the pests, and ultimately the larvae die. The drawback of this practice is that kerosene vapours act slowly and that the treatment is not a sure and definite method of annihilating the borer.
Agricultural practices like ploughing, hoeing and basin preparation also influence the survival of soil inhabiting pests, by exposing soil inhabiting insect, pests and other arthropods and nematodes to harsh weather and to natural predators. Insects are most vulnerable when in the pupal stage and most insect-pests pupate in the soil as a protective habitat.
Birds like the king crow, the myna, and the starling pick up the exposed pupae once they’re exposed. Other insects, such as grasshoppers, crickets, mole-crickets and borers, lay their eggs in the upper layers of the soil, and when they are exposed they dessicate.
Insects like cutworms, grubs of the root borer and white grubs, which feed on the root system of plants, are also exposed to the vagaries of the elements during basin preparation and hoeing.
Beside dislodging the pests from their protective habitat and subjecting them to unfavorable conditions for survival, hoeing also improves aeration of the soil and facilitates proper percolation of water into the soil.
However, according to the scientists, the degree of success of these operations depends on the presence of natural predators in adequate numbers, and the synchronization of exposure with the vulnerable stages of the pest's life cycle.
“These traditional pest control methods may appear ordinary but their effects on pests and insects are serious. An insect crossing a trail of this product experiences the human equivalent of walking barefoot on broken glass,” says Dr Hellen Mueni, a scientist who has championed the use of traditional pest control methods.
"The loss control is impressive and cheap thanks to the knowledge of our fathers," said Dan Okello a farmer in Jinja Uganda who is actively using the traditional pest control methods.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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