Maize (Zea mays) is the principle cash crop in Zambia as well as the main staple crop which supports livelihoods of about 85% of the population. Maize (Zea mays) is produced by both commercial farmers and smallholder farmers. However, there has been a decline in the production and yield of maize due to a number of factors that include infestation of the Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda).
The Fall armyworm is native to the tropical regions of the western hemisphere from the United States to Argentina. It is a destructive moth that causes a lot of damage to plants and can colonize almost 100 plant species that includes rice, wheat, millet, sorghum and sugarcane. The pest is capable of laying hundreds of eggs, and the emerging larvae attacks the plants by feeding on the foliage making ragged holes and burrows through the husks.
In November and early December 2016, Zambia experienced an outbreak of the Fall armyworm which affected fields in over 100 districts in almost all the provinces of Zambia. Since then, the Fall armyworm has been a problem every farming season in maize fields including the crop grown in winter. The pest has caused serious reduction in maize yields which has pushed farmers especially the smallholder farmers resort to using drastic control measures such as using detergents.
A study by the Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute has shown that some chemicals were found to be ineffective in eliminating the pest and were wrongly used by the farmers. From my point of view these conventional methods, such as use of insecticides is very costly, especially to smallholder farmers and some have a hazardous effect to the environment and livestock.
As a young innovator, I have come up with an idea of using the push-pull technology to control this destructive pest through the use of marigold (Tagetes erecta L.) as a push crop and Napier grass (Pennistetum purpureum) as a pull. I intend to put up field trials which will have maize intercropped with marigold which will push the pests out of the field and bordering the intercrop plot with Napier grass which will pull the pest. The intercrop emits a blend of compounds that repel (push) away the Fall armyworm moth, while the border plants emit semiochemicals that are attractive (pull) to the pest. Marigold will not only push away the Fall armyworm but also control nematodes as well as repel other pests such as stemborers but my focus will be on the Fall armyworm. I also intend to put up monocrop plots of maize as a control and measure and compare the yields at harvest. I will repeat these trials a few times before taking the innovation to the farming community.
My innovation will not only control the Fall armyworm but also other pests as well as improving soil health and providing high quality fodder since the companion crops are good forages. Therefore, push-pull technology facilitates crop-livestock integration hence widening the farmers’ sources of income for a sustainable livelihood. The marigold will also act as a soil cover to conserve soil moisture for optimal growth of the main crop. In addition to this, the marigold also attracts natural enemies that attack the larvae of the Fall armyworm especially those in the Phylum Arthropoda. This plant has other uses which might be beneficial to the farmers such as homemade skin treatments, ointment can be used to soothe sunburns, warts, bites, acne and ulcerations, in addition to healing wounds, dry skin and blisters.
My innovation is sustainable as the planting materials are readily available locally and do not affect the agricultural environment in a negative manner. The innovation also has a wide range of benefits for a sustainable livelihood and food security.
Munsanda Walubita, Zambia