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Used engine oil tames termites

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A man harvests mushrooms from termite hill in a park. Raphael Ngari applies used engine oil to stop the pests from attacking wood. PHOTO BY

In slowing the wearing out of the wooden posts of cheap greenhouses, one innovator is applying used engine oil to deter termite pests and extend the life of the farming structures to more than six years.

Termite pests, which feed on wood, destroy farm structures by chipping the parts buried into the soil.

Raphael Ngari helps farmers in East Africa in making cheap greenhouses through alternative use of local materials.

Whilst metal-supported greenhouses of 8m by 15m cost about Sh300,000, the wooden ones require Sh135,000 to install.

Ngari realised in as much as the wooden greenhouses are supposed to last for at least six years, the posts were dangling within a year within a year.

 “Three litres of used engine oil are mixed with half a litre of diesel. This makes the engine oil to be lighter or less viscous to penetrate the wood.  The oil gives the wood an unpleasant taste, which discourages the voracious termites,” he said.

In addition, charring wood from the side that will be in contact with the soil also helps in reducing the attacks.

Charring involves superficial ‘roasting’ of wood to harden the upper layer.

Termites attack wood by spreading cellulose-digesting enzymes, which break it down into food. But after the charring, the upper surface of the wood, which majorly comprises cellulose, is defaced leaving lignin, which is distasteful to the pest.

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According to the Maderas Ciencia y tecnología journal, it takes up to 30 weeks for the termites to attack after the application and burying the wood in a termite infested area.  This may take even longer than the 30 weeks in less infested areas spanning into years.

The journal also cites neem extracts as a preservatives of wood against the termites for at least 17 weeks.

The termites attack untreated poles of dead fences, houses, livestock structures, among others.

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