A Platform Technology for Improving Livelihoods of Resource Poor Farmers in Africa

A conservation agricultural approach known as `push-pull' technology has been developed for integrated management of stemborers, striga weed and soil fertility. Push-pull was developed by scientists at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), in Kenya and Rothamsted Research, in the United Kingdom, in collaboration with other national partners. The technology is appropriate and economical to the resource-poor smallholder farmers in the region as it is based on locally available plants, not expensive external inputs, and fits well with traditional mixed cropping systems in Africa. To date it has been adopted by over 35,000 smallholder farmers in East Africa where maize yields have increased from about 1 t/ha to 3.5 t/ha, achieved with minimal inputs. 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. Gravid stemborer females are repelled or deterred away from the target crop (push) by stimuli that mask host apparency while they are simultaneously attracted (pull) to the trap crop, leaving the target crop protected. Desmodium produces root exudates some of which stimulate the germination of striga seeds and others inhibit their growth after germination. This combination provides a novel means of in situ reduction of the striga seed bank in the soil through efficient suicidal germination even in the presence of graminaceous host plants. Desmodium is a perennial cover crop (live mulch) 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, enhances arthropod abundance and diversity and improves soil organic matter, thereby enabling cereal cropping systems to be more resilient and adaptable to climate change while providing essential environmental services, and making farming systems more robust and sustainable.

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