|PAN UK Project: Innovative food spray shows results in non-pesticide cotton production in Ethiopia|
A PAN UK project intended to reduce pesticide use and improve the profitability of cotton production for smallholder farmers in the Ethiopian Rift Valley area has shown in only its first year that it is possible, without pesticides, to produce cotton yields that at least match - and often exceed - those achieved by conventional pesticide-based cotton growers.
This success has been achieved by adapting an innovative food spray, prepared using cheap, locally produced ingredients, to help manage pests without harmful chemical pesticides, and which has already proved successful in PAN UK cotton projects in Benin, West Africa.
The food spray, developed by PAN UK, the Australian Cotton Research Institute and our West African project Partner, OBEPAB, is designed to attract beneficial insects into cotton fields and encourage them to remain there to prey on insect pests that attack the cotton.
Between 2009 and 2013 PAN UK trained over 2,000 smallholder cotton farmers in Benin in the use of the technology, allowing them to escape the effects of ill-health caused by using chemical pesticides, while also improving their income through reducing expenditure on pesticides, which can account for up to 60% of a farmer’s income.
Trialling the food spray is only one element of this three year project, undertaken in partnership with PAN Ethiopia, and funded by the JJ Charitable Trust. It also aims to develop and test a training programme to facilitate the widespread adoption of the food spray technology, and to train 2,000 smallholder cotton farmers in the Arba Minch area of the Ethiopian Rift Valley in the use of the technology.
Successfully adapting the food spray for Ethiopian conditions
In June 2013, Davo Vodouhe (OBEPAB Director) and Flavien Koumassegbo (OBEPAB’s Chief extension officer) travelled to Ethiopia to train PAN Ethiopia and Addis Ababa University staff in the food spray. Flavien and Davo worked with Dr. Robert Mensah of the Australian Cotton Research Institute to set up the food spray trails in Benin and have extensive practical experience of preparing and deploying the food spray. As this was the first time that the food spray was to be used in Ethiopia, Flavien and Davo brought all of the ingredients with them from Benin, but also helped PAN Ethiopia to identify local substitute materials so that farmers can make the spray with readily available ingredients.
They provided training in the scientific principles behind the food spray and in how to prepare the spray and embed it into an integrated pest management (IPM) programme. They also assisted PAN Ethiopia in identifying local sources of materials for the food spray.
The project team established a total of nine trial plots - three each in the project areas of Shelle Mille, Chano Mailla and Faragusa. The project team, and farmers who hosted the trial plots, sampled the plots for beneficial and pest insects twice a week throughout the growing season. The harvesting took place in November.
The results of the pilot projects were remarkable. The minimum average yield from the trial plots was 16.45 quintals of seed cotton per hectare (1quintal=100kg), and the highest yield was 23.03 quintals per hectare.
These figures are very high and are around twice the yield being achieved by conventional growers in the region most of whom only managed between 8-10 quintals per hectare this season. In fact, they are at the very highest end of cotton yields achieved by smallholder farmers anywhere in Africa.
It should, however, be noted that it is unlikely that these high yields will be maintained once the technology is widely adopted. One reason for the high yields is that the PAN Ethiopia team gave intensive one-to-one support to the farmers managing the trial plots and ensured that regular insect monitoring took place and that the food spray was applied correctly and at the right times.
Indeed, the conventional control fields within the trail plots also achieved higher yields than normal, suggesting that the farmers took better care of the trial plots. “Real life” farmers will not receive such intensive support. However, it should be noted that in all but one case, the food spray combinations achieved higher yields than conventional pilots indicating that it is an appropriate technology for the region.
Developing and promoting the training programme
The lessons learned from the project will be used as a basis to develop a inform a generic training manual, which will allow the food spray technology to be rolled out across other areas the world.
Can alternatives to synthetic pesticides really bring greater income, improved health and greater food security and safety to African cotton farmers?
PAN UK and various of it’s partner organisations have successfully supported similar projects across sub-Saharan Africa, which have brought greater income, improved health and greater food security and safety to African cotton farmers.
The links below provide more information on the impact of non-chemical pesticide cotton production across parts of Africa:
The following are articles from PAN UK’s journal Pesticides News:
And here’s what just one African cotton farmer has to say
Evelyn Ate Kokale (Glazoué, Benin)
“It has been 5 years now since I decided to convert to organic cotton. I made this decision in 2001 because I had just suffered a miscarriage due to the use of pesticides. Organic cotton has given me more independence as a woman, because I receive a better income, and I am paid immediately after the harvest. I am now able to buy luxuries, clothing, crockery, something which is a real pleasure because I couldn’t do it before. And more importantly, my children’s health is no longer at risk.”