When push comes to shove in pest management

Stem borers hidden in a maize tassel in Embu district, Kenya. "Push-pull" technology can help prevent pests and parasites from attacking crops.

Stem borers hidden in a maize tassel in Embu district, Kenya. “Push-pull” technology can help prevent pests and parasites from attacking crops.

Pests are the perennial enemy of every farmer. They stunt crop and livestock growth, reducing yield, minimising profits and impacting livelihoods as a result. New ways to control pests are at the top of the agenda for improving food security and enhancing livelihoods.

ICIPE, an African organisation developing management methods and technologies to control pests while being mindful of environmental issues, is leading the way on “push-pull” technology, an idea presented by Jimmy Pittchar at the 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week organized by FARA.

Push-pull technology is a pest management approach that uses repellent intercrops and attractive trap plant to reduce pest occurence. The system repels pests from the food crop and attracts them to the trap crop. They then remain on the trap crop, leaving the important plants unaffected. Push-pull is mostly used to control Stemborer and Striga, a parasitic weed, and it does so without the use of chemicals. The technology targets farmers who have less than 5 acres of land, but it can also be mechanised for larger land areas.

One of the crops used for the push effect is Desmodium, a member of the bean family of plants. Desmodium effectively inhibits Striga growth through allelopathy, minimizing its impact on the target crop; maize yields, for example, can increase from less than 1 tonne/ha to 3.5 tonnes/ha. The plant has also proven succesful as an intercrop with millet, rice and sorghum.

In addition to its benefits for pest control, push-pull technology also takes into account climate issues through the use of drought tolerant plants as traps in drier areas of Africa.

Benefits of the Push-Pull Technology include increased fodder production, improved cattle health, increased crop yields, increased forage seed production, and the conservation of biodiversity due to the reduced use of chemical pesticides.

Implementing this technology on a large scale in African countries will require addressing needs such as value chain development, capacity building, and improved farm management.

See Jimmy Pittchar’s full presentation from AASW6.

Blogpost by Dominic Kornu, a social media reporter for AASW6.

Photo: CIMMYT

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