Dr Zeyaur Khan, Push-pull, Kenya, 20th of January 2016 – part 2

This afternoon after spending the morning at the ICIPE research station in Mbita Point we travelled with some of Dr Khan’s team to Rongo to see a couple of farms that were practising Push-pull. The first farm we went to was to see farmer John

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John has been practising Push-pull for eight year. There are 600 farmers in the area doing so. John is now a farmer trainer and has many visitors to his farm. He had already had 120 visitors before we got there on Wednesday. John grows sorghum, maize and rice and has cows and goats

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This field in the background has sorghum growing in it.

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This field he has harvested the maize. He also harvests the top half of the stover which he grinds for livestock. The first field that he tried Push-pull in before he started he could not grow anything in it due to Striga. In the 2nd year of push-pull he had doubled his yield. Push-pull has allowed him to reduce the area needed to grow crops on which means less labour to get same amount of grain. The push-pull also means no need for crop rotation.

The trees around the outside of the fields are Caliendra which he cuts every year for firewood, leaves for fodder,sells the seeds, great for bees, they are N fixers

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The next field he was multiplying up the Desmodium seed

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The Push-pull has meant that he went from 2 to 16 sacks of maize. He sold 8 and bought a cow. The cow produced 12l per day of milk which he sold the surplus to pay for his children’s school fees. John has 15 children all that have gone through school and 5 so far have been through university.

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John also grows his own vegetables and has built a reservoir and pump to irrigate the vegetables in a dry time

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He now is self sufficient in all but meat. This means his wife does not have to walk all the was to Rongo to buy food and firewood. Quite an incredible change of life in eight years.

The second farm we went to was an orphanage and school which was coordinated by Molly

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Molly calls Push-pull her donor as it has allows her to feed the orphans and sell surplus for cash. There are 62 orphans and 500 school children.

They also grow fish which are fed on the fodder from the push-pull

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There are one thousand fish in there which they sell for cash. After having a look around the farm Gordon and I were taken around the school to every class to meet the children. There was real excitement to see and touch a white man. We felt a little like celebrities for half an hour

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Dickens our ICIPE guide also enjoyed being teacher and MC. Today was a great day and it was amazing to see how something so cheap and basic as intercropping change change farmers and families life. Thanks to all the team at ICIPE.

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Dr Zeyaur Khan, ICIPE, Mbita Point, Kenya, 20th January 2016 – Part 1

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After leaving Rusinga we traveled a short distance to ICIPE at Mbita Point. This is where Dr Khan (left in the picture) has been developing the “push-pull “technology for maize growing in this area. The evening we arrived we had dinner with Professor Wadhams and his wife who are here on holiday. Professor Wadhams co-developed push-pull with Dr Khan.

Push-pull is probably the most powerful example of the beneficial effects of intercropping I will see. The problems of growing maize in this area of East Africa is a parasitic weed called Striga

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As shown above the Striga attaches to the root of the maize and sucks all the nutrients. The other problem is stem-borer. It is the larval stage of a moth that bores into the stem of the maize again taking nutrients from the maize

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The push-pull has been developed using Desmodium a legume and Napier grass to trick the moth and the Striga

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There is a lot of information on http://www.push-pull.net The Desmodium tricks the Striga into suicidal germination and repels the moth of the stem borer. Then the Napier grass attracts the moth to it where lays it eggs instead of on the maize.

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This is the first push-pull field which has been going for 15 years. This technology has increased the maize yields from 1.5t/ha to over 5t/ha and has been taken up by 110,000 farms in East Africa. There are other benefits of the system. The Desmodium and the Napier grass can be used livestock feed. The Desmodium provides Nitrogen and is a weed suppressant. They only have to weed once instead of 3 times and only in a small strip not all over. The other benefit is that it is relatively cheap to run. The Desmodium seed is a one off cost. The system can also be used in sorghum and millet.

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Above is showing the difference between with (left) and without (right) push-pull. It is pretty dramatic.

After a few years there became a problem in very dry years that the variety of Desmodium would not survive the drought and so needed to be replanted and the Napier grass developed a disease called Napier Stunt. This led to the second generation Climate Smart Push Pull. They now use a drought tolerant variety of Desmodium and a different grass called Brachiaria.

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Above is a plot that is ready to be planted with maize. They have also tried to work out what the effect of the Desmodium is on Striga. Is it shading of Striga, Nitrogen effect on the maize or root exudates

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The results seem to show that the root exudates have the biggest effects.

The major side benefit of the Push-Pull is the production of fodder for the animal. So at ICIPE they are trialling best practise for fodder harvest, usage and ensiling

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They are also measuring the production benefits and increases in the livestock production

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Another interesting benefit of the Napier grass is that is repels tics so they surround their stall with Napier grass.

We really had a fascinating morning with so much information that I could not fit it all into this blog and I would recommend people visit the website for more information. It is a great example of how to use Mother Nature to your own benefit without large costs which makes it ideal for the small holders. Many thank to the team at ICIPE.