16.10.2017

For the farmer, seeing is believing

Bekelech Tesfaye is feeding her cattle and all are watching. Her neighbours know that the young farmer has the highest milk yields in Asama and they also know why: Bekelech has the best animal feed and the best maize yields. Now, they all want that. A story for World Food Day …

Peter Lüthi, Biovision Project Reporter

Despite her shyness, Bekelech seems to enjoy the attention of her neighbours. In contrast, it is of no concern to her cows, oxen and calves. They only have eyes - and a nose - for the greens, which they avidly devour. They seem to realise that the feed is much more nutritious than the meagre, dried-up grass that is their normal diet. In fact, they are right as the small desmodium leaves - a member of the legume family – and the brachiaria grass are genuine power foods. The particular feature of these plants is that they are a by-product harvested from the maize field of Bekelech Tesfaye and her husband Mulugita Uma. The couple sow the desmodium between the maize plants and brachiaria grass around the edge of the field. These two plants protect the maize from a dreaded pest; the stemborer moth. This insect causes enormous damage to maize and sorghum crops in the Tolay region of Ethiopia.

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Bekelech Tesfaye, a farmer in Asama (Tolay) has escaped the vicious circle that is poverty thanks to the help for self-help offered by Biovision.
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The success of Bekelech and her husband Mulugita Uma has attracted considerable interest in Asama.
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Grassland in the Tolay region is poor, making the Push-Pull method even more important as it also provides nutritious animal feed.
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Push Pull in a maize field: Desmodium is planted between the stems and brachiaria around the edge of the field. The desmodium carpet also protects the soil from erosion and aridity.
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Desmodium is a member of the legume family and enriches the soil by adding nitrogen. Bekelech collects the desmodium seeds for the next sowing.
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Thanks to Push Pull, Bekelech Tesfaye has increased her maize and milk yields and increased the herd size.
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Push Pull and other Biovision projects are opening up new opportunities for the future of Asama (Tolay)
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Bekelech carries the key to her success in her arms: Desmodium in her left and brachiaria in her right.


A (pleasant) smell 

The stemborer is a small moth; its larvae devour the stems of their host plants. Researchers from the Insect Institute in Nairobi (icipe) discovered that the smell of the desmodium planted between the maize plants repelled the insects whilst the aroma from the brachiaria drew them away from the field. When the moths laid their eggs on the brachiaria’s sticky leaves, they stuck to the leaves and died. This protected the maize or sorghum and so significantly reduced the farmers’ crop losses. This biological method of insect control is called “Push-Pull”. For 15 years, Biovision has been championing this method and training farmers in East Africa, including in Tolay. In this way, Biovision is helping to improve food security and fight poverty in a part of Ethiopia that has experienced devastating crises in recent years. 

More maize + more milk = more money

Bekelech Tesfaye and Mulugita Uma from Asama are one example of what has been achieved. The Biovision project has been training farmers in the Push-Pull method since 2013. So-called Lead Farmers are required to pass on the method to five other farmers and support them with its introduction. It was one of these farmers who taught Bekelech and Mulugita. “Push Pull is very important for us because we have been able to increase our maize and milk yields,” says Bekelech with satisfaction. “Before that, our cow only produced between ¼ and ½ litre of milk per day and because of a shortage of animal feed, the lactation period was only about 6 months.

Thanks to the goodness of desmodium and brachiaria – the cow now produces four litres per day and the lactation period can be 8 - 9 months”. This has significantly improved the couple’s own food situation. They can sell the surplus and increase their herd. Before Push-Pull, they only had one cow and one ox whereas now they have two oxen, three calves and two cows in calf. They have already sold one of their oxen for the princely sum of 7,000 Birr (about 270 Swiss Francs) and this income has significantly boosted their standard of living.

Of course, others in the village have noticed this. “Our neighbours always wanted to buy animal feed from us,” reports Bekelech. “However, we did not want to sell”. Instead the couple offered to pass on their knowledge and experience. Local interest was great and the young couple have recruited twice the required number. There are now 10 new Push-Pull farmers in Asama.

Please support this and the many other effective Biovision projects. Take part in our current autumn campaign “4 Wins”.

See also Biovision Newsletter No. 47