‘Push-pull’ entails mixing, into a field of crops, plants that repel insect pests (‘push’) and planting, around a crop, diversionary trap plants that attract the pests (‘pull’).
Researchers, from Kenya and the UK have found that the approach produces real and tangible benefits for subsistence farmers and, if adopted widely in African countries, could have a huge impact in reducing crops lost to pest infestation. The main target was a series of lepidopterous pests attacking maize and other cereals.
Although the area given to the crop itself is reduced under the ‘push–pull’ system, higher yields are produced per unit area. In areas of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda where the approach has been adopted, the profit a farmer can produce per hectare has increased by between three and four times the amount generated by standard practices.
An important spin-off is that the companion crops are valuable forage for farm animals. Leguminous intercrops also provide advantages with regard to plant nutrition and some of the trap crops help with water retention and in reducing land erosion. A major benefit is that certain intercrop plants provide dramatic control of the African witchweed (striga).
Research has been published in a special themed double issue on ‘Sustainable Agriculture’, in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
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