One more environmentally friendly use for the Neem tree

A healthy maize crop.

In interviews we conducted recently across Kakamega County, following all Kenya government and World Health Organization rules and regulations on fighting Covid-19, 20 farmers revealed how they’ve been fighting crop pests and diseases on their farms. While most farmers solved their problems using conventional pesticides mixed in water and sprayed on plants or powders applied on affected plant parts, other farmers resorted to using natural means to fight crop pests.

A farmer inspecting a maize field for pests.

Unlike weeds, which most farmers control by applying the right herbicides or pulling from the farms while tilling before planting, farmers believe pests are unpredictable. This makes them hesitate to invest in pesticides and other pest control measures until their farms are attacked/infested.

Clinton Kadamani, a vegetable farmer, believes it’s more expensive to purchase pesticides for pests you’ve not yet seen on the farm. “What happens if you bought pesticides to control aphids and your crops are not attacked?” poses Kadamani.

There are a number of crop pests that cause damage ravaging farms and causing farmers pre-harvest and post-harvest losses. Controlling these pests has been prioritized by the national and county governments to help farmers minimize losses and harvest enough for their families and extra for income generation. There are a number of natural, environmentally friendly and healthy ways farmers use to fight crop pests and diseases. While some methods, like applying ashes, are purely experimental, others, like spraying with omo (a washing and laundry powder), are out of desperation for lack of alternative control measures, which this blog seeks to address via Scientific Animations Without Borders videos.

During the interview, farmers revealed a general encounter with aphids that attack their vegetable farms with kale (sukuma wiki) as a preference. Other pests included the stem borer that attacks maize, and the fall armyworm that’s ravaged farms for the last two years.

The stem borer.

By using the ‘push-pull system,’ which is a key element in developing an integrated pest management program, a maize crop can be protected from the stem borer. According to the SAWBO video on Climate-smart Push-pull System for Stem Borer, (Swahili version), growing maize is hard work made harder by pests which attack and destroy crops. This educative video takes a farmer through the steps of preventing the damage caused by the stem borer pest.

The fall Armyworm.

Effects of the Fall Armyworm on a maize plant.

This was the second pest farmers have been struggling to control on their farms. Most farmers confirmed that until three years ago, they had not encountered the fall armyworm and its effects on maize crops. This caused them to experiment with traditional pest control methods that had little effect. After encountering the SAWBO videos on ‘How to Identify and Scout for Fall Armyworm,’ farmers were confident handling the pest in the current short rains maize crop and in future.

According to Washika Mwachi, a farmer in Mumias region, there is need for natural ways of controlling aphids and other pests that attack crops as captured in the SAWBO videos on Natural Insecticides from Neem Seeds. The Neem tree, also known as “Muarubaini” in Swahili or “Mukilifi” by the Mijikenda people, has insecticidal compounds that can be extracted from its seeds and sprayed onto crops to prevent pest insect damage. He further states that these environmentally friendly pest control measures should be embraced by all farmers for better yields, cheaper pest control costs, and healthy farms.

The SAWBO animation explains how to collect and sort the Neem tree seeds, grind and mix the powder in water and how to prepare the solution for spraying on the crops.

The Neem tree is found in most homes of East Africa region. It has existed for years in the Coastal region and introduced upland in the late 80s where it has been widely planted. The Neem seed has also been propagated by birds and animals that feed on its fruit. That is why it’s locally found in forests, bushes, farms and everywhere such trees thrive. This has ensured a steady supply of neem seeds that can be used by farmers to prepare natural insecticides that are cheap and environmentally friendly.