Using botanical pesticide extracts for insect pest management is a known and scientifically proven less cost and environmentally benign crop protection option for small scale farming communities. Looking at its sustainability in crop pest management, the scope of activities need to expand beyond experiments-results-dissemination dimension. What is needed is an actionable and clear research agenda that is factual, practical and has farm level outcomes for users. To achieve such a down-to-earth approach, social change, practical innovation and research need to be
holistically deliberated .
I am passionate about using Farmer Research Network (FRN) design to enhance sustainable agro-ecological crop pest management on small scale farms. This approach brings together farmers, researchers and key stakeholders in crop protection and hence bridges the gap between scientific knowledge, from hundreds of thousands of publications about usefulness of botanical pesticides, to practical use of such plants by indigenous small scale farmers in their fields.
The design involves three main aspects; Farmers, who represent communities and who are organized in groups and participate in the whole research process. Farmers participate democratically while collaborating with researchers and relevant stakeholders such as government and NGOs. They recognize diversity of their communities and design their research objectives based on real contexts. They also maintain transparent communication between themselves and other stakeholders such that their challenges are better addressed collaboratively.
Research, which is a rigorous, democratized, and useful, providing practical benefits to farmers as well as insights on biophysical and social variations. The research conducted is intended to solve existent and proposed farmer problems and concerns that are raised and agreed to be addressed. It is based on simple and easy-to-use protocols that farmers can facilitate and enable sound data collection management and analysis.
Lastly networks, which foster collaboration and opportunities for learning and knowledge sharing. Networks enable co-learning and collaboration, reflections, feedback sharing and inspiration in the network. It results in information spread even outside the network, to the rest of the community.
We have successfully used the Farmer Research Network approach involving 100 farmers who are organized in four groups in Kilimanjaro Tanzania during the 2017/2018 cropping season. In this area, farmers cultivate common beans and maize as a food and cash crop along with banana as their traditional crop. One of main challenges is high insect pest damage in maize and bean crops, which forces them into using pesticides of high cost and concerns over safety to the environment and humans. On the other hand, the area is endowed with botanical plants species, which are scientifically proven for their effectiveness in pest control. Such plants are usually cleared off during cultivation as though they were of less value.
The onset of the FRN research in this area was to brainstorm alternative pest control of pests by using the readily available plant species. During the cropping season, each farmer set aside two plots to test the botanical plant of interest on one plot against an untreated tor a synthetic treatment as a control on the other plot.
In training each farmer learned the processes of preparing and applying botanical pesticide and would decide the frequency of application. Simple observations of damage, presence or absence of pests and yield were conducted by farmers while researchers did the assessment of abundance of insect pests, beneficial insect and growth parameters on the same plots. Analysis by farmers, as well as from researchers and stakeholder, is shared at the feedback meetings.
Our results clearly showed that appropriate application frequency can enable pest management most effectively in bean and maize crops. In this case, challenges are discussed and planned as research objectives in the following cropping season.
Good news from our collaborative research is that the most effective plant for pest management observed is locally available, can repel burrowing and destructive rodents in banana fields, and is a source of soil nitrogen. We therefore agreed to propagate the plant, in farmers’ fields and in banana fields in order to attain multiple benefits, that is, obtain plant leaves for pesticides, keep burrowing rodents and maintain the soil. “Seeing is believing”. Farmers are experiencing passionate about successfully using a natural product from their area for crop protection. Good news spreads and so the network of four groups has yielded into knowledge dissemination to nonmembers within and without their communities. Neighboring farmers and NGOs that promote sustainable production have been learning from the network and inquiring plant materials for use in their areas.
The program is now taking a picture of the business opportunity, a chance for farmers to increase their income from selling botanicals, meanwhile protecting their crops against pests. We, in collaboration with the University of Greenwich, have produced videos narrated in English and local languages on how to use botanical pesticides as a learning tool for other farmers. Botanical pesticides persist less in the environment, they can be made available through propagation of right plant species and can be prepared using simple and local methodologies. Using botanical pesticide by small scale farmers is envisaged to trigger local commercialization and value addition of natural resources.
Our next steps include creating an executable business plan that will enable farmers to commercialize their tested plant species locally, and increase their income. We are soliciting funds to help us expand networks and test botanical pesticides in more crops, pests and diseases and in more complex contexts. Botanical plant have potentials of being a commercial nonfood cash crop for Tanzania and to the rest of the world through FRNs in more diverse and distinct cropping systems and varied farmer contexts. We aspire to improve the conditions of use to more sophisticated and less time consuming procedures and to design a sound networking, monitoring and documenting systems to enable upscaling of botanical pesticides use in diverse communities in Tanzania and later outside Tanzania.
My experience in working with small scale farmers excites me because I feel being a good ambassador for the community that is among the 80% of the population producing the worlds’ food and which provides appreciable employment opportunities. Participation in the IUPAC next generation would make me share more stories about my collaboration as a PhD research candidate with small scale farmers in research that has yielded good knowledge with promising sustainability. I believe my community will be proud to note that their output is shared globally and I will learn and bring them more experience from other farmers across the world.
Angela Mkindi, Tanzania