In Tanzania, agriculture is the major economic sector employing more than 75% of the population, with the majority being smallholder farmers. I am also from a family where 100% of our livelihood depends on agriculture, specifically crop production. I am therefore well experienced with the challenges affecting smallholder farmers, the major one being insect pests. My interest has been to find a sustainable solution towards crop protection against insect pests for increased production and income among smallholder farmers.
The current practice in pest management has been the use of synthetic pesticides that is often not affordable to the majority of smallholder farmers. Even when available with subsidies, they are applied at inappropriate rates leading to not only pesticide resistance but also health problems to the farmers, consumers and the non-target organisms in the environment.
My previous research involved assessment of the pesticidal efficacy of field margin weeds against field insect pests of common beans, which is among the major crop produced by smallholder farmers in Moshi district. I also assessed the pesticidal efficacy of the botanicals against storage pest (bruchids in cowpea). The findings revealed significant efficacy of those margin weeds that are abundant around the smallholder farms. The findings of these studies are already published and freely available online (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26599609 and https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international-journal-of-tropical-insect-science/article/contact-and-fumigant-toxicity-of-five-pesticidal-plants-against-callosobruchus-maculatus-coleoptera-chrysomelidae-in-stored-cowpea-vigna-unguiculata/0A21122241E4C7773CC3A02DFAD8D99E )
My current research is a continuation of the previous research with a focus on biological pest control and how the field margin weeds with pesticidal activities are also useful in enhancing the natural enemy population. Natural enemies in agriculture refers to organisms that attack and feed on other organisms particularly insect pests, leading to a type of pest regulation known as natural/ biological pest control. Biological control technique that focus on field habitat manipulation and management to enhance the survival and activities of the indigenous natural enemies of insect pests in agricultural ecosystems is called conservation biological control. Conservation biological control has several advantages in the sense that it relies on native natural enemies, well adapted to the target agricultural ecosystem. It is therefore cheap, environmental friendly and can easily be adopted among the farmers in their agronomic practices. Though Africa is well known worldwide in terms of its biodiversity, it is not sufficiently integrated into the agriculture sector due to several reasons including limited research and lack of awareness among farmers.
This has driven my interest towards this type of research. The findings have revealed a severe lack of knowledge among farmers, necessitating the need for training, with field experiments or farmer field schools, for raising awareness among the farmers to adopt conservation biological control for sustainable crop protection. Survey of smallholder farmers’ fields with different field margin weeds leads to useful information on the importance of the flowering weeds along the field margin in enhancing the natural enemy population with reduced pest infestation. However, farmers have been killing the natural enemies by synthetics and destroying or uprooting the margin weeds due to lack of knowledge about natural pest control and the importance of farm biodiversity in pest management. Farmers are not only fumbling in the dark, but also unknowingly destroying the environment with the associated biodiversity and ecosystem services.
It is time to empower the farmers in order to bring changes towards sustainable crop protection. I believe the adoption of conservation biological control by smallholder farmers will increase crop production at reduced costs, increase income and improve their livelihood. Other benefits include use of margin plants as botanical pesticides for spraying crops since they are less harmful to beneficial insects, animal fodder, raw materials for compost manure, increased pollination services which consequently lead to more yield, reduced soil, air and water pollution due to reduced use of chemical inputs, increased biodiversity of other organisms like decomposers, nitrogen fixing organisms, and other organism that are involved in different ecological processes. My intention is to reach 100 farmers with this useful technology in the coming two bean seasons (March to June and July to October, 2019) and through farmer research network groups that I have developed with the farmers, this technology will easily spread to the larger community. I believe your support is very important in achieving my dreams for the benefits of smallholder farmers.
Prisila Mkenda, Tanzania