Maize farmers reclaim lost yields with organic traps

Maize and sorghum farmers in western Kenya through the guidance from researchers are using organic traps to rid their crops of pests and the lethal witch weed which have robbed them off their yield further fanning the hunger cycle.

Through the organic control method dubbed Push and Pull technology the farmers are not only tripling yields but also cutting costs on farm inputs like pesticides as well as providing fodder for their animals. The new technology thrives on organic farming to help fight pests and the purple witch. Farmers from the region adopted the technology five years ago through the guidance of Mwangaza Farmers Group Organization (MFAGRO) a local farmers’ group that has specialized in offering extension services to the farmers in the region.

The group which pooled resources from research organizations like Kenya’s International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and agro based not for profit groups in a bid to find an all inclusive way of fighting pests and the rampant purple witch. Dick Morgan the Chairman of MFAGROW noted, “We formed our group to help alleviate poverty and scale up production from the farms through empowerment of small holder farmers with new ideas and techniques that are environmentally friendly. We try to minimize the use of chemicals especially those that are have a long term negative impact to the environment.” According to him, when the technique was fronted to them by their lead researchers from KARI, they never thought twice about adopting it.

The technology hinges on the use of Napier and Desmodium in the planting of the maize. Integrating the three crops according to Dick has profound benefits that an all-round farmer can reap from. To get better results from Push and Pull, a farmer is encouraged to either plant Napier all-round on the edge of the border of his land or if the land is bigger divide it into square portions from which he will plant Napier grass at the border of each portion. The maize is then planted into the land that is already surrounded by the Napier grass. The maize is intercropped with Desmodium with Dick advising that one can either use direct sowing of the seeds or even plant it using cuttings like is the norm with sweet potato vines.

 The notorious maize pests like cutworms and maize stem borer are controlled organically without use of pesticide. When the pests attack maize, Desmodium produces a scent that repels ‘Push’ the pests away from the maize field. The Napier on the other side produces an aroma that attracts the pests forcing the pests to opt to leave the maize and attack the Napier which has attracted them and this is what is referred to as ‘Pull’.

However the pests don’t stay long on Napier as the Napier grass produces a gummy substance that traps the stem borer and cut worm larvae so, once they hatch, only a few survive to adulthood. Napier also kills some adult pests before even hatching hence riding the maize of the pests. Desmodium does the repelling ‘Push’ of pests while the Napier grass does the attraction ‘Pulls’ them. By so doing, the farmer finds a cheaper solution to control the pests spread in maize farm without chemical use and therefore saving him the monetary cost of purchasing pesticides.

The ‘purple witch’ is also a victim of this technology. The intercropping of maize with Desmodium curtails the growth and survival of the weed. The fodder is a legume and as a result their root produces chemicals that stimulate germination of striga seeds, but then prevent them from attaching successfully to maize roots. The striga eventually dies and the number of seeds in the soil is also reduced.

Besides, the cold conditions provided by the mulching effects of the fodder curbs the growth and survival of Striga. Striga weeds mainly thrive in warmer conditions and it can hardly survive in cold conditions.  Morgan explained that this model curtails Striga germination due to the cold and moist conditions and yet the weed needs warmer conditions for its’ sprouting in the initial 2-3 weeks of planting the host crop. “The host crop like maize has a certain liquid that it produces from its’ roots that the weed feeds on to enable its’ germination and this must happen in the initial 2 to 3 weeks after planting maize and under warm or hot conditions in the soil where the striga seeds lie,” added Dick. He added that it’s this inhibiting cold condition that deter the germination of the Striga and therefore the seeds in the soil end up dying due to the unfriendly conditions created.

Farmers who have adopted this technology have not only witnessed improved yields but also helped regain soil fertility because of the ability of Desmodium roots fixing nitrogen into the soil. The crop has a life span of over 10 years if well catered for and it regenerates. “One needs to cut the over grown and weed the remaining stems just like is the case with Napier grass.”

For a mixed farmer who has adopted this technology, he is assured of year round supply of fodder and increased milk production. “Desmodium is well known for its ability to boost milk production in dairy cows and this is a plus for our farmers who have already adopted the technique,” explained Dick. In addition, farmers are also making a kill with the seeds from Desmodium with Dick noting that a kilo of it’s’ seeds is retailing at Sh1200.

 The Vihiga based farmers’ group has currently marshaled over 15 farmer groups each comprising of about 20 to 25 members to adopt the technology. The essence of the farmer group adopting this technology is not only to use it but also help others who cannot access the training to adopt. “We are encouraging farmer to farmer training because farmers learn best from the success of their counter parts.” The model is also having a multiplier effect with farmers being the main drivers of the technique in the region.

Rirchard Outa a fifty four year old father of three is among the farmers who learnt the technique through multiplier effect. He learned about Push-Pull from his neighbour Fred Luttah who was among the early adaptors. “It rains on my field just as it does on his but somehow my neighbour’s harvest was getting better each season from the same soil and weather.” Luttah eventually adopted the technology three years ago and saw his a quarter acre farm produce over 300 kilos in a single harvest, a huge increase given that he had only managed to harvest a paltry 250 kilos in an entire 2 care piece land owing to to competition from Striga and pests like cut worms.