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close this bookSPORE Bulletin of the CTA No. 38 (CTA Spore, 1992, 16 p.)
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View the documentCrop protection for resource-poor farmers
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Crop protection for resource-poor farmers

The problems that face the small-scale or resource poor farmer in the world today are complex: yet in many developing countries it is these resource-poor farmers who have to produce not only enough food for their own families but also a surplus for the urban population. They also have to produce cash crops either for processing by local industry or for export. Foreign exchange earnings, as well as the livelihood of individuals, depend largely upon their efforts.

Recognizing that yields of resource-poor farmers" crops are much lower than those recorded in the developed world, and that pest damage is a significant contributing factor, CTA, in collaboration with the Natural Resources Institute of the UK, organized a seminar on Crop Protection for Resource-poor Farmers. This was held from 4-8 November 1991 at the Isle of Thorns Conference Centre, University of Sussex, UK and was attended by 24 delegates from ACP countries and a similar number of resource-persons from the EC and elsewhere. Most delegates represented research establishments or their country's ministry of agriculture.

The objectives of the seminar were to provide a forum to examine and evaluate pest management techniques ranging from traditional practices to 'western', high technology approaches; to consider the relevance and usefulness of the latter to resource-poor farmers; to identify which of the modern and traditional technologies are most likely to benefit farmers in the African, Caribbean and Pacific states; and to propose means of promoting them.

In his introduction to the seminar, Mr Alan Jackson of CTA called for vigilance in assessing the effectiveness of new technology, technology which frequently ran the risk of being too narrowly-based. He challenged delegates to consider the extent to which the activities of scientists were really helping farmers with their problems and added that technology which stays in the laboratory is of no use to farmers.

Commenting upon the necessity to put the farmer first when attempting to solve farmers' problems, Dr Robert Chambers of Sussex University, one of the keynote speakers at the seminar, emphasized that farmers' participation is crucial. He said that controlling pest damage was a good example of where farmers should have "a basket of choices" rather than be given a "package of practices".

Mr John Perfect of NRI said that the integrated pest management (IPM) approach to crop protection, should provide farmers with the opportunity to make that choice. He pointed out that IPM called for the minimum use of agrochemicals and the maximum use of natural, regulatory mechanisms. However, he stressed that since improved crop protection was essential in order to increase yields, the use of agrochemicals could not be ruled out and, in certain circumstances, may even be increased.

Dr Theresa Sengooba, the Director of Namulonge Research Station in Uganda, who gave the second keynote address, stressed that the crop protection technologies that are being developed for resource poor farmers should be feasible, socially acceptable, environmentally sustainable and, above all, economically beneficial to the farmer. She felt that economic threshold levels are under-researched in many developing countries. Although levels have been established for some pests of major cash crops such as coffee and cotton, there is a need to determine economic threshold levels on all major pests of food and cash crops. This would improve the value of monitoring information and disease forecasting, and would help to guide decisions on research priorities.

Many of the speakers presented examples of crop protection techniques that reduce the need for pesticides. Dr Nick Jago of NRI described how, in Mali, farmers protect their fields of millet by planting sorghum, which is less susceptible to grasshopper attack, around the boundaries. Again stressing the importance of cultural methods, Dr Julian Mchowa of the Ministry of Agriculture, Malawi, said that having a closed season for cotton as well as ensuring that all plant residues are burnt after harvest, helped to control red and pink bollworm. Farmers are also encouraged to plant varieties of cotton which are resistant to jassid attack and to avoid spraying with insecticides in the early part of the season so that populations of beneficial insects can increase. A similar programme is practiced successfully in Zimbabwe.

Classical biological control has a very high cost benefit ratio when the desired ecological balance between pest and predator has been achieved. However, as Dr Winfred Hammond of the IITA Biological Control Programme in Benin pointed out, vigilance is still required. He said that farmers in Ghana had been controlling the grasshopper damage to cassava by spraying with insecticide, a measure which was proving to be more effective at destroying the beneficial insects which control mealybug and green mite. He described how encouraging farmers to spray earlier, on the weed grasses where the immature grasshoppers develop, had reduced the quantity of pesticide required, protected the beneficial insects and had proved to be a more effective method of controlling damage.

The need for a broad view was expressed by many of the delegates present, not only when presenting papers but in the discussion groups that were formed to consider crop protection from the viewpoints of a resource-poor farmer, a research scientist and a policy maker. Summing up the feeling of the seminar, Dr Florence Wambugu of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute said that IPM is the best method of controlling any pest or disease but that it does need very good coordination to be effective. She suggested that another aspect of IPM should be to train and educate so that traditional methods are not lost and can be integrated effectively with the use of resistant varieties, quarantine measures, disease forecasting and cultural, biological and chemical control. And she observed that women's groups were often the most receptive to new ideas.

At the end of the seminar, Alan Jackson (CTA) re-emphasized that scientists and farmers must work together far more often and over longer periods of time. And when policy-makers try to identify farmer needs, they must consult farmers themselves so that their indigenous knowledge of how to grow crops, and protect them from pests, is fully recognized.