|PAN UK Project: A new approach to tackling pesticide dependency and improving livelihoods in Africa|
PAN UK has launched a project to bring a safe and effective new approach to pest management to Ethiopian smallholder farmers which uses beneficial insects to replace hazardous chemical pesticides and improve the profitability of cotton production.
Working with the Australian Cotton Research Institute, PAN UK has successfully developed a harmless “food spray”, made with cheap local materials such as yeast and sugar, that attracts beneficial insects into African cotton fields to feed on pests. This technology has already transformed the health and financial well-being of thousands of smallholder cotton farmers in Benin, West Africa.
This new project, funded by the JJ Charitable Trust, will adapt the food spray to Ethiopian environmental and cultural conditions and share it with over 2,000 farmers in PAN UK’s cotton programme in the Arba Minch area of the Ethiopian Rift Valley. As the project progresses, we will develop training materials to spread the technology far beyond to benefit cotton growers throughout Africa
The specific aims of the project are threefold:
The problem with pesticides
Cotton is extensively grown by smallholder farmers across Africa. It is a major cash crop that provides much-needed income to poor families. But cotton is very vulnerable to pest attack which can reduce yield and quality. As a result, farmers rely heavily on synthetic toxic pesticides to control pests. Most have little or no training in pesticide use and tend to use the chemicals excessively and inappropriately. This has caused numerous problems such as pesticide poisoning, water and soil pollution, livestock deaths and loss of biodiversity. It has also contributed to pest resistance which has in turn driven farmers to increase their pesticide use.
This strategy is unsustainable, not just in terms of health and environmental impacts, but also in terms of livelihoods – pesticides are expensive and increased use has reduced the profitability of cotton.
Food spray already a success in Benin
PAN UK, with the help of local partners in Benin - L’Organisation Béninoise pour la Promotion de l’Agriculture Biologique (OBePAB) and Dr Robert Mensah of the Australian Cotton Research Institute - successfully developed a “food spray”, made with local materials such as yeast, sugar and maize, that attracts beneficial insects into cotton fields to feed on pests.
Research plots and trials with local farmers in Benin, showed that by combining the food spray with neem-seed spray and appropriate training support, farmers could eliminate chemical pesticides but maintain yields. Chemical inputs can account for as much as 60% of income from cotton production, so the technology has the potential to dramatically improve the profitability of cotton for small farmers.
Between 2009 and 2011 PAN UK and OBEPAB trained nearly 1,700 Beninese organic cotton farmers in the use of the spray. The field research, and real-life experience, in Benin showed that using food spray in combination with neem plant extracts can change the predator to pest ratio by attracting and conserving predatory insects, increasing predator consumption rate, and decreasing fertility of pest species. This has significantly reduced pest densities and resulted in higher cotton yields and dramatically increased incomes for the farmers involved.
The main factor behind increased farmer income has been a significant drop in expenditure on chemical pesticides. This reduction in pesticide use has had knock on benefits for farmer health and environmental quality.
Benefits beyond Benin
This project will apply the lessons learned in Benin to develop a training programme and package of supporting materials that can – with limited adaptation to local circumstances – be applied in smallholder cotton systems in other African countries.
The training package and associated materials that will be developed by this current project will allow the food spray to be easily incorporated into integrated pest management (IPM) and organic training activities being delivered by NGOs and governments across the continent. This will allow the technology to reach and benefit many thousands of farmers.
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 experience of successfully supporting similar projects across various parts of 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
Julién Dédoumin – Organic cotton farmer in Lohouelohouedji village in Glazoué District, Benin
“Before organic, I used to use pesticides to grow my cotton. After spraying I would feel dizzy and sick. I had a rash all over my arms that itched terribly. I scratched until I bled. Now I grow organic cotton. I make more money and I don’t need to spend money on dangerous pesticides. I have been able to buy a motorbike and to build a good home for my family”