“You must be a witch. Why doesn’t striga grow in your maize fields? Our fields are overrun with the weed and it is destroying our crops!”
A group of farmers stand menacingly in front of the women in the green overalls and insist that she reveals her secret and admit she is a witch. Why? Her maize fields have escaped the pest and her harvest is much better than the other farmers. You can feel the tension building and a heated debate develops. Some 20 people, seated on coloured plastic chairs, listen intently to the action …
To spread the introduction of the Push Pull method in rural areas, villagers from Lela near Lake Victoria are using an unusual approach. Under the direction of the village school teacher, they are rehearsing a play to perform to local farmers. Many of them cannot read or write or only a little and so spreading knowledge through drama is an effective alternative. What is more, the audience love it. At the heart of the play is a farmer who uses the Push-Pull method and so escapes the curse of the striga weed. The other farmers regard her with suspicion and suspect her of foul play. After all, she is not using herbicide and so she must be a “striga witch”. Otherwise how could she escape the curse? The amateur actors perform the play with considerable zeal complete with animated hand gestures. This is all very much enjoyed by the audience who also get involved; they heckle, applaud and laugh. At the end of the play, the secret is revealed. The reason her maize crops are spared is not witchcraft but Push-Pull; it explains why her maize harvest is better.
Push Pull is a sustainable method of cultivation that improves soil health. It uses no chemical pesticides and naturally increases the yields of small-scale famers in sub-Sahara Africa. On World Soil Day on 5 December we should like to thank icipe, the insect research institute for their major contribution to Push Pull and sustainable ecological development. We are looking forward to continued rewarding cooperation.
The “striga witch” story was discovered by Andreas Rösch, a member of the Biovision team during a project visit in autumn 2017.