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Push-Pull: model for Africa’s green revolution

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Thursday, 04 April 2013

Push-Pull: model for Africa’s green revolution

A conservation agricultural approach known as 'Push-Pull' technology that exploits natural insect-plant and insect-insect relationships can be used to control pests as stemborers and striga weed in maize fields, and thus dramatically improve livelihoods of resource poor farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. It was developed more than ten years ago by scientists at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) - an independent research center based in Nairobi (Kenya) – with finance from the EU and the UK Government, among others.
‘Push- Pull’ is a farming system which involves three different crops: maize (which is defenseless in front of local pests, not being an indigenous crop), and two accompanying perennial crops- Napier grass (an indigenous grass in Africa), and Disodium.
The technology involves intercropping maize with a repellent plant, such as desmodium, and planting an attractive trap plant, such as Napier grass, as a border crop around this intercrop, as a trap plant.
Desmodium produces a smell that ‘pushes’ away the stemborer moths from the rows of maize. It also covers the surface of the ground between the rows, which stops striga weed on growing. On the other hand, Napier grass is more attractive to stemborer moths and ‘pulls’ the moths to lay their eggs, without allowing to the larvae to develop.
The technology is appropriate and economical to the resource-poor smallholder farmers in the region as it is based on locally available plants, and fits with traditional mixed cropping systems in Africa.
Furthermore, Desmodium is a perennial cover crop which is able to exert its striga control effect even when the host crop is out of season, and together with Napier grass protect fragile soils from erosion. It also fixes nitrogen, conserves soil moisture, and improves soil organic matter, thereby enabling cereal cropping systems to be more resilient and adaptable to climate change.

By 2012, the ‘Push-Pull” approach has been adopted by almost 60,000 smallholder farmers in East Africa (Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia). In the researched cases, maize yields have consequently increased more than three-fold, from about 1 t/ha to 3.5 t/ha. ICIPE envisages to reach 1 million small scale farmers in the future.
The main challenge faced by the technology is its knowledge-intensive character- its adotion at large scale requires training and mass dissemination. Also, seed producers tend to be reluctant to produce Desmodium seeds, because the crops is perennial, and farmers are not obliged to buy it several times.  

Stemborers, parasitic striga weeds and poor soil fertility are the three main constraints to efficient production of cereals in sub-Saharan Africa. Crop losses caused by stemborers and striga weeds amount to about US $ 7 billion annually, affecting mostly the resource poor subsistence farmers.

ICIPE (International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology) is a pan-African research organisation that investigates tropical insect science for development. ICIPE was established in 1970 in order to conduct research on methods that are non polluting, non resistance inducing, and affordable to resource limited communities for  pest and vector management strategies.
With the funding of European Union, an ‘Adaptation and Dissemination of the ‘Push-Pull’ Technology (ADOPT) project is currently going on.

Source: CTA Brussels, ICIPE