Innovation of the Week: Handling Pests with Care Instead of Chemicals

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet. Between the years of 1975 – 1976, the Cambodian farmer, Name Name, like most farmers in the country during that time, grew vegetables and rice to feed the soldiers of the Lon Nol regime. 

Using his bare hands, Name mixed the chemicals DDT, Folidol, Phostrin and Kontrin in order to keep the pests away from his crops. As a result, he suffered from strange and uncomfortable physical symptoms. Sometimes he was unable to move or feel his hands and lower arms, and he experienced pain in his lungs and heart. His short term memory was also affected. All of these symptoms often persisted for up to six months after exposure to the chemicals. When the regime ended, Name went back to farming for himself and his family, and decided that he would do so without the use of any of the harmful chemical fertilizers that he realized are so dangerous to his health. With training from organizations supported by the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its Regional Vegetable IPM Program in Asia—in addition to some of his own research—

Name learned how to prepare botanical insecticides and organic composts from animal wastes and other materials already available on his farm. Now he is now able to avoid expensive and dangerous insecticides almost completely. This alternative approach is called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and it combines various strategies and practices to grow healthy crops, reduce damage from pests and minimize the use of artificial inputs. The FAO Regional IPM Program uses informal farmer training schools, facilitated by extension staff or other local farmers, to help train and implement field experiments. Local farmers learn new techniques from each other— as well as develop their own methods through facilitated field experiments—to minimize the use of chemical inputs on their farm. In addition to raising animals and growing vegetables and rice, Name also produces several varieties of mushrooms organically which he sells at local markets.

Though he does not yet receive a higher price for his organic produce, his crops are marketed to an increasingly conscious consumer base as being chemical free. And Name hopes that as awareness about the dangers of many chemical fertilizers increases, so will the value of his crops. For now, he is happy to be producing enough food to feed his family and earn a significant portion of their income, without endangering his own health, or the health of those that enjoy his crops.

To read more about how farmers can reduce the financial –as well as environmental and health—costs of chemical inputs, see: and For Pest Control, Following Nature’s Lead, Tiny Bugs to Solve Big Pest Problem, In Botswana, Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture and Wildlife Conservation, Malawi’s Real Miracle, Emphasizing Malawi’s Indigenous Vegetables as Crops, and Finding ‘Abundance’ in What is Local.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. She has already traveled to over 19 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Gabon next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.

If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates. Please don’t hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Innovation of the Week: Handling Pests with Care Instead of Chemicals

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet. Between the years of 1975 – 1976, the Cambodian farmer, Name Name, like most farmers in the country during that time, grew vegetables and rice to feed the soldiers of the Lon Nol regime. 

Using his bare hands, Name mixed the chemicals DDT, Folidol, Phostrin and Kontrin in order to keep the pests away from his crops. As a result, he suffered from strange and uncomfortable physical symptoms. Sometimes he was unable to move or feel his hands and lower arms, and he experienced pain in his lungs and heart. His short term memory was also affected. All of these symptoms often persisted for up to six months after exposure to the chemicals. When the regime ended, Name went back to farming for himself and his family, and decided that he would do so without the use of any of the harmful chemical fertilizers that he realized are so dangerous to his health. With training from organizations supported by the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its Regional Vegetable IPM Program in Asia—in addition to some of his own research—

Name learned how to prepare botanical insecticides and organic composts from animal wastes and other materials already available on his farm. Now he is now able to avoid expensive and dangerous insecticides almost completely. This alternative approach is called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and it combines various strategies and practices to grow healthy crops, reduce damage from pests and minimize the use of artificial inputs. The FAO Regional IPM Program uses informal farmer training schools, facilitated by extension staff or other local farmers, to help train and implement field experiments. Local farmers learn new techniques from each other— as well as develop their own methods through facilitated field experiments—to minimize the use of chemical inputs on their farm. In addition to raising animals and growing vegetables and rice, Name also produces several varieties of mushrooms organically which he sells at local markets.

Though he does not yet receive a higher price for his organic produce, his crops are marketed to an increasingly conscious consumer base as being chemical free. And Name hopes that as awareness about the dangers of many chemical fertilizers increases, so will the value of his crops. For now, he is happy to be producing enough food to feed his family and earn a significant portion of their income, without endangering his own health, or the health of those that enjoy his crops.

To read more about how farmers can reduce the financial –as well as environmental and health—costs of chemical inputs, see: and For Pest Control, Following Nature’s Lead, Tiny Bugs to Solve Big Pest Problem, In Botswana, Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture and Wildlife Conservation, Malawi’s Real Miracle, Emphasizing Malawi’s Indigenous Vegetables as Crops, and Finding ‘Abundance’ in What is Local.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. She has already traveled to over 19 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Gabon next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.

If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates. Please don’t hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Innovation of the Week: For Pest Control, Following Nature’s Lead

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

It might feel counterintuitive, but the more varieties of vegetables, plants, and insects that are included in a garden, the less vulnerable any single crop becomes. Mans Lanting of ETC Foundation India wrote in LEISA Magazine in 2007 that the best method of approaching pest control is to learn to live in harmony with pests instead of trying to fight them. By harnessing the natural state of vegetation and pests, a farmer can create “a system in which no component can easily dominate” and in which soil and crop quality is greatly improved.

In other words, the tendency for traditional farming to give preference to specific crops, to plant in clean rows, to weed out any invasive plants, and to use chemicals to prevent pests and disease is actually creating a need for these pesticides and fertilizers. Soil fertility decreases when crops are harvested, and growing a single crop means that the soil is further stripped of nutrients with each season, requiring the use of inputs that, according to Lanting, lead to an imbalance in plant nutrition and increase vulnerability to pests and diseases. This introduces the need for pesticides, which cost more money and create toxic runoff that can damage the local environment.

The result is a self-perpetuating war against infertile soil and a burgeoning pest population.

Instead, Lanting recommends taking an alternative approach, mimicking the diversity that takes place in nature and creating a garden that relies on natural systems to provide nutrients as well as pest and disease control.

Farm biodiversity can be improved by integrating border crops, trees, and animals. Farmers can also include trap crops—crops that attract insects away from the main crop—which include Indian mustard, sunflower, marigold, soybeans, and French beans, as well as crops that promote insect predators such as pulses for beetles, okra for lace wing, and coriander, sorghum, and maize for trichogramma (small wasps). Visual barriers can be used to help “hide” crops from pests. The diamond backed moth, for example, has to be able to see cabbage in order to find it—and destroy it before a harvest.

Nourishing the Planet saw some of these techniques being implemented at Enaleni Farm, a demonstration farm run by Richard Haigh in Durban, South Africa. Haigh cultivates traditional maize varieties that are resistant to drought, climate change, and disease, and he practices push-pull agriculture, which uses alternating intercropping of plants that repel pests with ones that attract pests in order to increase yields. He also applies animal manure and compost for fertilizer. Haigh likes to say that his farm isn’t organic, but rather an example of how agro-ecological methods can work. (See Valuing What They Already Have)

Using these methods, a farmer will have a garden with at least 10 crops, creating an ecosystem that resembles one found in nature. The soil is more fertile, and the insects and diseases are distracted and preyed upon so that their impact is less concentrated. In a sense, a farmer needs to let the garden get wild in order to protect it from the wild.

To read more about chemical-free farming practices see: In Botswana, Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture and Wildlife Conservation, Malawi’s Real Miracle, Emphasizing Malawi’s Indigenous Vegetables as Crops, and Finding ‘Abundance’ in What is Local.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. She has already traveled to over 18 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Benin next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels. If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates. Please don’t hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Innovation of the Week: For Pest Control, Following Nature’s Lead

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

It might feel counterintuitive, but the more varieties of vegetables, plants, and insects that are included in a garden, the less vulnerable any single crop becomes. Mans Lanting of ETC Foundation India wrote in LEISA Magazine in 2007 that the best method of approaching pest control is to learn to live in harmony with pests instead of trying to fight them. By harnessing the natural state of vegetation and pests, a farmer can create “a system in which no component can easily dominate” and in which soil and crop quality is greatly improved.

In other words, the tendency for traditional farming to give preference to specific crops, to plant in clean rows, to weed out any invasive plants, and to use chemicals to prevent pests and disease is actually creating a need for these pesticides and fertilizers. Soil fertility decreases when crops are harvested, and growing a single crop means that the soil is further stripped of nutrients with each season, requiring the use of inputs that, according to Lanting, lead to an imbalance in plant nutrition and increase vulnerability to pests and diseases. This introduces the need for pesticides, which cost more money and create toxic runoff that can damage the local environment.

The result is a self-perpetuating war against infertile soil and a burgeoning pest population.

Instead, Lanting recommends taking an alternative approach, mimicking the diversity that takes place in nature and creating a garden that relies on natural systems to provide nutrients as well as pest and disease control.

Farm biodiversity can be improved by integrating border crops, trees, and animals. Farmers can also include trap crops—crops that attract insects away from the main crop—which include Indian mustard, sunflower, marigold, soybeans, and French beans, as well as crops that promote insect predators such as pulses for beetles, okra for lace wing, and coriander, sorghum, and maize for trichogramma (small wasps). Visual barriers can be used to help “hide” crops from pests. The diamond backed moth, for example, has to be able to see cabbage in order to find it—and destroy it before a harvest.

Nourishing the Planet saw some of these techniques being implemented at Enaleni Farm, a demonstration farm run by Richard Haigh in Durban, South Africa. Haigh cultivates traditional maize varieties that are resistant to drought, climate change, and disease, and he practices push-pull agriculture, which uses alternating intercropping of plants that repel pests with ones that attract pests in order to increase yields. He also applies animal manure and compost for fertilizer. Haigh likes to say that his farm isn’t organic, but rather an example of how agro-ecological methods can work. (See Valuing What They Already Have)

Using these methods, a farmer will have a garden with at least 10 crops, creating an ecosystem that resembles one found in nature. The soil is more fertile, and the insects and diseases are distracted and preyed upon so that their impact is less concentrated. In a sense, a farmer needs to let the garden get wild in order to protect it from the wild.

To read more about chemical-free farming practices see: In Botswana, Cultivating an Interest in Agriculture and Wildlife Conservation, Malawi’s Real Miracle, Emphasizing Malawi’s Indigenous Vegetables as Crops, and Finding ‘Abundance’ in What is Local.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. She has already traveled to over 18 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Benin next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels. If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates. Please don’t hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Despite Financial and Political Challenges, Conserving Natural Resources and Improving Livelihoods in Madagascar

 Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Madagascar has had more than its share of bad luck in the last year. In 2009, a military coup deposed the government. But the government wasn’t the only thing that collapsed. The island nation’s $400 million per year tourism revenue also disappeared, which has led to increased logging and deforestation of Madagascar’s forests.  And many of the NGOs and aid agencies that were working in Madagascar for decades have found their projects hindered by new regime’s policies—as a result, many have scaled back or left the country.

One NGO, however, the Italian-based Reggio Turzo Mundo (RTM), has continued to work with farmers in the country, despite the challenges. RTM works with farmers and farmers groups to develop alternatives to slash and burn agriculture, including organic farming practices that help build up soils.

RTM is also helping develop a manual for organic agriculture for farmers. “Organic agriculture,” says Tovohery A. Ramahaimandimbisoa, RTM’s organic agriculture coordinator, “is not promoted by the government.” In 2009 the former government provided farmers with a subsidy for fertilizer, but the current government won’t be providing farmers with fertilizer or other inputs, forcing many to burn forests to provide nutrients to the soil.

By teaching farmers how to compost, prevent erosion, and keep nutrients in the soil, RTM hopes to prevent slash and burn agriculture and help improve livelihoods. According to  Ramahaimandimbisoa, “many small producers in the field are already organic, but they’re not making money.”

And RTM is also helping farmers develop certification collectives for organic products, such as cloves, ginger, black and white pepper, and vanilla. These collectives, says, Lorena Iotti, RTM program coordinator, will help make it possible for farmers to develop their own certification standards and make it easier to export products to Italy and other countries.

Stay tuned for more about agriculture in Madagascar later this week

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