Push-pull method might be the answer to get rid of pests

The push-pull method is one of the ways in which farmers proactively protect their crops from pests and potential infection. Photo:Supplied/FoodForAfrika.com

The push-pull method is one of the ways in which farmers proactively protect their crops from pests and potential infection. Photo:Supplied/FoodForAfrika.com

Agriculture’s history might best be defined as “more for more”. We generated more food as we farmed more land. But there’s a downside to it because it also meant the increased use in harmful chemical pesticides. A push-pull chemical-free approach might be the solution.

While industrial agriculture successfully nourishes billions of humans, its explosive growth has also resulted in biodiversity loss, contaminated water and increased greenhouse gases. This method is not viable as the population of the planet approaches 10 billion people and the consequences of climate change become more obvious than ever. 

Furthermore, according to an article written by the Faculty of Biological Sciences at Leeds University, African smallholder farmers face substantial challenges from weeds such as striga – also known as witchweed – and insect pests such as fall armyworm . Fall armyworm poses a serious threat to food security and livelihoods, impacting at least 400 000 hectares and causing crop losses worth an estimated $3 billion each year. 

What exactly is push-pull technology?  

According to Kenya’s Biovision Africa Trust it is avoiding harsh and harmful chemical pesticides that not only harm our ecosystem by poisoning pollinators, but may also harm people.  

The harm may be seen in diseases such as lymphoma, breast cancer, spontanoeus abortion and reproductive system harm which causes birth defects and still births which  can be a real struggle. 

However, push-pull pest management is a chemical-free technology that has grown in popularity for food crops in Australia and Africa.  

Push-pull works by utilising companion plants to dissuade and repel (push) insects away from key food crops, and decoy plants to lure (pull) pests to various sites where they are trapped or preyed upon by beneficial insects.  The widespread practice of interplanting plants like maize and  desmodium, then planting sudangrass around these corn fields, is an example of this push-pull pest management method. The essential oils of the desmodium deter or “push” stem borers away from the maize. The sudangrass then acts as a “pull” plant. 

Using pheromone traps

In an article with Horti Daily Dr Sam Jones from IPS urges farmers to set up pheromone traps near their crops to catch mature male moths. A pheromone is a chemical generated by a female insect to attract males for mating, and once the male insects are caught in the bucket, mating is no longer possible. 

Furthermore,the Biovision Africa Trust states that it is critical to set it up one month before sowing the crop, and the trap should be situated adjacent to the maize field so that the fragrance of the pheromone is transported across the top of the plants by the wind, and it should be hung on poles. For a continuous trap operation, it is updated every four weeks, and captured insects must be removed every week. 

Who is making use of it? 

Push-pull has established itself outside of East Africa in nations such as Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Burundi and Burkina Faso, after spreading to neighbouring countries such as Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia. The push-pull program’s many activities have already benefitted over 150 000 small-scale farmers in the various project locations. 

 Identifying your pull-push plants 

In order to get the best out of your push-pull, there are a variety of plants one can use such: 

Push plants 

• Chives – repels carrot flies, Japanese beetles and aphids  

• Dill – repels aphids, squash bugs, spider mites and cabbage loopers 

• Fennel – repels aphids, slugs and snails  

• Basil – repels tomato hornworms  

Pull plants 

• Sorghum – attracts corn earworms  

• Dill – attracts tomato hornworms  

• Nasturtiums – attracts aphids 

• Sunflowers – attract stinkbugs  

• Mustard – attracts harlequin bugs  

• Zinnia – attracts Japanese beetles 

New technology is necessary

Push-pull farming technology has yet to enter the mainstream of farming technology. Agroecology is gaining popularity because of considerable research and a diversity of assessment methods. Credibility is essential in a highly competitive industry like agricultural technology. 

However, push-pull has proven to be an essential approach outside of the agricultural sector since its introduction, and it looks to be merely the beginning of huge structural changes for farmers in East Africa’s rural areas. 

The aim to increase food security and incomes by accelerating the spread of the push-pull method is a complex undertaking. While time is luxury, a good thing is worth waiting for. 

ALSO READ: Kenyan ban hurts Ugandan poultry farmers

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