Pesticides and Herbicides are they really the only answer to weeds and pests?
I guess it depends what you are growing and how much. Also you need to know the alternatives… and there are alternatives.
In Asia, Africa and parts of the USA, maize growing areas are affected by striga, an attractive looking weed whose roots attach themselves to the maize roots sucking the nutrients from the maize plant and reducing the crop.
Another problem for maize is the stem-borer moth, which as the name suggests bores into the maize at night and lays its eggs in the stems to grow into caterpillars, ultimately killing the plant.
Herbicides that kill the striga also kill the Crop and Insecticides have limited potency and unavoidably end up in the food chain.
If you thought these were some minor problems, here are some figures.
Approximately 25,375,000 hectares in sub-Saharan Africa are under maize cultivation, of which 6,122,000 ha are affected by the parasitic striga weed. East Africa loses US$7 billion worth of maize worth of maize due to striga and around $5-6 billion from the cereal parasite stem-borer insect, according to The International Centre for Plant Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), in Kenya. These problems affect 300 million people in Africa.
ICIPE scientists in collaboration with International partners, have developed a chemical-free system to handle both problems. The solution works on a “companion planting” concept which the ICIPE call “push-pull cultivation”
In this system the maize is under-planted with desmodium being a low-growing plant, it does not interfere with maize growth, and has a nitrogen-fixing action which maintaining and improving soil moisture, stability and fertility.
Desmodium is easy to harvest and serves as a highly nutritious animal feed. The desmodium roots give off a chemical which attacks and kills the strida seeds without affecting the Maize roots. Also the Desmodium smells and acts as a repellent pushing away the stem-borer moth.
The pull part of the system are provided by grasses, like napier, molasses, sudan grasses planted in a border around the maize fields, where invading adult moths become attracted to what appears a tastier crop. The grasses are also a haven for insects that thrive on borers and also the napier exudes a sticky resin that traps the moth and kills the larvae.
ICIPE say the production of maize by farmers using the method has gone up from less than one tonne per hectare previously to 3.5 tonnes per ha, an increase that ensures year-long food for the smallholder family with an additional income from selling the surplus.
ICIPE is now testing the push-pull method in rice cultivation, and against the cotton bollworm, both features that bode good news for millions of Asia’s small farmers.
ICIPE is also encouraging farmers to plant cotton as a second crop in addition to a food crop. The roots of the cotton plant also produce chemical flavinoids and isoflavinoids, similar to the desmodium root, that help kill the striga weed.
But it’s not just major crops that benefit from companion planting, your home grown lettuce and tomatoes amongst others also have companion plants that fight off bugs and assist growth. So before you go and buy costly herbicides and pesticides check out the low cost and healthy alternatives