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Embu grain grower utilises tobacco leaves and chilli to keep grain pest-free

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Janet Kinya a widow of two moves across her granary as she admires her well-arranged sacks of beans and peas. She is among the major suppliers of produce to schools in Embu County, a venture she has been involved in for the last five years. But with the dried peas and the beans storage has been the headache of weevil and voracious pests that have been every farmer’s nightmare.

Janet however has never lost sleep over that. Her two-acre piece of land has allowed her to harvest over 15 bags of beans and over 25 bags of peas.

But when the demand for the produce is low, it requires her, like many farmers in the area, to stack the produce in the granaries for as long as two months. This has been the beginning of the farmers’ woes as pests invade the granaries attacking the produce rendering them unsellable.

The conventional pesticides have done little to help, with the pests learning new ways to evade the pesticides. Janet however has never used pesticides in her entire farming life. She has found her silver bullet in tobacco leaves and chilli which she says has done wonders since she started. “I learnt this trick from my late grandmother who was very good in farming and preservation methods. Once I perfected it and realized how safe my produce in the granary were, there was no turning back,” she said.

She has never attended meetings by agro input companies who have constantly pitched tent in the region trying to woo farmers to embrace the pesticides.  “When I first talked to the farmers about my simple method of produce preservation, they laughed and dismissed me off telling me it was useless. Months later they are coming back to me after having spent so much on impotent pesticides while I am still growing strong,” said Janet.

Immediately after harvest, Janet spreads her peas and beans in the sun, then soaks chili pepper in water, strains the mixture then sprays the grains. She then dries them before bagging. Once the bags are stored, she places dry tobacco leaves around them. After a week, she replaces the old leaves with new ones. Ever since she started using the two methods in tandem, she has sold all her produce as healthy as she got them in the farm.

Her practice has received backing from science with ethnography scientists, who argue that the double treatment ensures that no single pest is during storage. According to Michael Chumo an ethnography scientist in Embu district there are pests that leave the field with seeds after harvest as larvae and go on to mature during storage which cause the real havoc to the produce. “That is why the pre treatment with chilli is of essence,” said Chumo. Tobacco leaves, Mr. Chumo adds, ensures that no further insects reach the stored seed.

According to Chumo however the practice of natural method of pest control has its shortcomings.  The capacity of natural products to work as insect repellents is short-lived. So the process has to be repeated frequently. In addition, there is no exact dosage, so farmers have to rely on their instincts. But there is very little chance of overdosing, as the products used in this technique are relatively harmless to humans.

Whenmost farmers exhaust what is already in the granaries, she still has more to sell which she is making a killing with.

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