Global warming, environmental degradation and relentless attacks from pests and diseases are some of the reasons as to why food production is on the downfall in most parts of Kenya. The vastly affected are small scale holder farmers who amount to a staggering 80 percent, most of whom grow maize.
Maize is the staple food crop for Western and Nyanza populace. Maize farms are consistently invaded by a weed known as striga hermonthica and a pest called maize stalk borer. The striga weed causes stunted growth in maize plants thus causing severe yield losses. Around the Lake Victoria basin for example, infestation by striga weed leads to a myriad 30- 100 percent loss in maize yield.
In spite of this seemingly major setback, there’s a new technology in town to challenge striga weed’s dominance – the push pull technology. This is a cropping system that witness farmers inter crop maize with nappier grass alongside a leguminous plant referred to as desmodium.
The desmodium perfectly controls maize stem borer and striga weed in cereal farms. The technology is referred to as Push-Pull simply because ‘the presence of maize means that stem borers will be attracted to the plants, lay eggs in the maize stalks and when they turn into moths, the smell from desmodium pushes them away’.
The thrust lands the moths, mostly female to the nappier grass that is always planted round the maize plot. The moths lay eggs on the nappier plants but they do not metamorphosis into larvae because the nappier does not guarantee ideal conditions for development.
After the eggs hatch and the surviving larvae bores into stems of nappier grass, the grass secrets gum like substance that traps and cause their death. Under such circumstances, very few stem borers survive and the maize farm is saved from the pests’ disastrous invasion.
The technology is currently being implemented in some parts of Siaya County. Most farmers are reluctant to take it up because of a feeling that it’s tedious. This writer visited some farms in Ng’ayo village, Rang’ala sub location in Ugenya Constituency and encountered how Push Pull is positively transforming maize farms.
Compared to maize farmers that failed to implement the technology, Mrs. Pamela Otieno’s farm is blossoming and a good yield is in the offing. “The desmodium has out rightly suppressed the striga weed; this technology has a lot of work, farmers willing to embrace it should brace themselves up for extra hard work,” she says.
Striga weed is parasitic and survives by attaching itself to the host plant which is always a cereal. Desmodium which contains fixed nitrogen also produces other chemicals through the roots that suppress the striga weed. This makes it impossible for striga to develop in a cereal-desmodium intercrop.
Suppress the striga weed
The farmer surrounds the plot containing the food crop with three lines of nappier grass. Within the plot, the crop is intercropped with desmodium, a leguminous crop which improves soil fertility, reduces evaporation hence acts as mulch and also serves as a livestock feed. Desmodium and nappier grass provide high quality livestock feeds, leading to high milk and meat productivity.
Is it justifiable to embrace this technology? “Yes but it has to be integrated. This is so because for the first two seasons, the striga is still visible as the full impact of desmodium is felt starting the third season; integration calls for the use of tolerant seeds,” says Gabriel Ofuwa, Ugunja based agricultural officer.
The technology is being implemented in Siaya courtesy of an Australian citizen only known as Trevor in collaboration with a local Non Governmental Organization (NGO) – The Ugunja Community Resource Centre (UCRC) that is based in Ugunja.
The technology is gaining momentum not only in various parts of Kenya but also in other African countries like Uganda. In this regard, it is highly expected that the striga and stem-borer challenges will soon be a thing of the past in African farms.
Exit of striga weed and stalk borer paves way for soil fertility hence good yields. Small holder farmers can be assured of improved yields only if dedication is the in-thing in embracing and implementing the push pull technology.