By: Gerold Rupper
Published: 1992-04-01


We asked how to do this in the last EDN. Fr. Gerold Rupper in Tanzania sent us the following. It involves a plant that is an old "friend" to our readers -- sunn hemp. You may recall from EDN 26-5,6 that sunn hemp is receiving widespread acceptance as a green manure in East Africa. The species they grow is Crotalaria ochroleuca. Fr. Rupper writes, "Early in the campaign for planting sunn hemp (also called zanziberica), we got a report from a youth group that monkeys had been afraid to traverse a belt of sunn hemp around their field of maize. I could not ask the monkeys why they did so. But one can imagine that first of all it is a strange sight to see sunn hemp growing together and forming a barrier. Secondly, the husks give a clattering sound, which may disturb the monkeys. [Editor: Scott Sherman points out that the word "crotalaria" comes the Greek root crotal meaning a rattle or castanet. The genus for rattlesnake is crotalus.] Thirdly, if they are caught stealing maize, it is almost impossible to flee through the sunn hemp field as the branches form a rather strong network like wire. In the case of maize [corn] there is some synchronization between the maize and sunn hemp. The husks of both crops form about the same time (depending on the variety of maize). People like to let the corn dry in the fields, at which time the barrier effect of sunn hemp becomes important. "Meanwhile we have developed a new method of planting sunn hemp. Two rows of maize alternate with one row of sunn hemp. Here the maize is well protected against monkeys. "By the way, here is another story. Some years ago Tanzania feared an invasion from South Africa. People were told to dig pits and cover them. Of course, before people went into hiding, snakes and other reptiles made their home there. So we sunn hemp people told them to grow sunn hemp. The plants form a solid black coverage where chickens etc. feel very safe from preying birds. If an invasion had come, they would have never suspected that sunn hemp fields are the best air shelters, although not yet listed as a war technology. Fr. Rupper's comments about how the upright plants fall into each other helps me understand a problem we have had. ECHO grows only very small plots of each plant for our seedbank, perhaps only 2 rows deep. The sunn hemp plots usually look terrible because they fall over. Apparently that is what they are supposed to do, but in the field they fall into each other and so hold each other up. There must be a sermon illustration in there somewhere. We can send a small packet of sunn hemp seed. We usually also send another species developed by the University of Hawaii, Crotalaria juncea. You can determine which does best in your conditions. People in Tanzania can contact Fr. Rupper at St. Benedict's Abbey, P. O. Peramiho, Tanzania. (I have no recent price, but in EDN 26 he was selling seed for US $7.00 per kg plus postage. He cannot offer phytosanitary certificates and takes no responsibility for safe delivery through customs in your country). He says that people in Zambia can obtain seeds from Ginnie Goodfellow, Box 61, Siavonga; Marleen Kramer, Dioz. Development Committee, Box 450014 Mpika or White Fathers Missions in Mbala, Kasama and Mansa dioceses.