Push-Pull Farming System Controls Fall Armyworm: Lessons from Africa
Abstract, 2018, Outlooks on Pest Management
Fall armyworm (FAW) Spodoptera frugiperda invaded Africa, with the first detections being reported in Central and Western Africa in early 2016, and now affects at least 40 countries in Africa, causing up to total crop loss amounting to over $6.2 billion p.a. FAW is an invasive polyphagous pest that causes damage to economically important crops and has recently been reported in the Indian sub-continent. Effective control of FAW through use of synthetic chemical pesticides and genetically modified crops such as Bt maize faces challenges including improper use, unaffordability by smallholder farmers and development of resistance by the pest. Additionally, dispersal of FAW larvae into the lower maize plant canopy keeps them out of reach of topical insecticide applications. Integrated pest management (IPM) packages like the push-pull technology which eliminate pesticide use, and deploy natural processes are more suitable and cost-effective. Push-pull is a farming system intensification approach that involves attracting insect pests with trap plants (pull) such as Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum) or Brachiaria grass, while driving them away from the main crop using a repellent intercrop (push), Desmodium spp., commonly known as desmodium, and attracting natural parasitoids and predators to the field. In the rhizosphere, chemicals secreted by desmodium roots inhibit attachment of germinated striga to maize or sorghum roots and abort germination of striga seeds which are rapidly depleted in the soil.
Moreover, it improves soil fertility by fixing nitrogen, improving carbon sequestration, organic matter, moisture retention, and soil biota, and prevents further degradation of soil. The climate-adapted push-pull technology significantly reduces plant damage by FAW and is the first IPM management tool for the pest in Africa, and is well suited to agro-ecosystem intensification needs of smallholder mixed farming systems in Africa and beyond. Both the African and the Asian continents provide favourable climatic conditions for sustained reproduction of the FAW, which is expected to result in severe damage to crops; and being a new pest in both continents, it might have few natural enemies. Conventional control methods have limited effectiveness, as explained above. Therefore, an IPM approach that is compatible with mixed cropping farming systems of small and medium scale farmers is necessary. The climate adapted push-pull is the first demonstrated IPM management tool for the FAW in Africa. The technology combines this with other concomitant benefits including control of stemborers and the parasitic striga weeds, improvement of soil health through factors such as nitrogen fixation by desmodium, natural mulching, moisture retention and improvement of soil organic matter and soil biota. The combined benefits, including control of FAW, result in ecologically sustainable higher crop yields, and well suited to agro-ecosystem intensification needs of smallholder mixed farming systems in Africa and beyond.