“Push-Pull” (www.push-pull.net) is an integrated, sustainable farming method that improves maize and millet yields and soil fertility: The stemborer pest is repelled by the smell of desmodium planted as an intercrop between the maize and millet (“Push”). Napier grass is planted as a border crop and it attracts the stemborers away the maize field (“Pull”). Desmodium can also fix nitrogen and so improves maize yields without the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides. The napier grass is also a welcome source of healthy animal fodder. The aim of the project supported by Biovision is to extend the use of this sustainable method in the area around Lake Victoria. The project supported by Biovision is now in its 4th phase. It is focussing on creating added value from the use of sustainable farming methods and continuing the development of the method for communities in Central Kenya.
Most local famers have about 0.9 – 2 hectares of land for the cultivation of maize and other crops. However, they find it extremely difficult to produce sufficient maize, which is a staple food in the region. Problems include poor soil fertility and infestations by pests such as the stemborer moth. This can reduce maize yields by up to 60%. The Push-Pull method can significantly improve food security and the position of small farmers, particularly in terms of the challenges facing them as a result of climate change.
In Central Kenya, some 1,700 farming families are benefiting directly from information on sustainable methods and in so doing are improving maize harvests and milk production. The farmers also learn how to process and market their products. A further 15,000 people enjoy an indirect benefit in the form of improved food security.
- Year 6 of the project will focus on creating a supply chain from producer to consumer and so establish a solid income based on the existing surplus production. This would be a major advance and would bring us a step closer to the overarching aim of reducing poverty and improving the living standards of rural communities in Central Kenya. However, the continued expansion of the Push Pull method, including training at farming colleges and the targeted dissemination of information remains an important part of the project.
- A further focus is training on how to improve the production of napier grass and desmodium.
- In addition, farmers will learn how to conserve the animal fodder produced. This will ensure that animal feed is always available at a low cost and so allow milk production to generate an income throughout the year.
- In addition, research projects will identify solutions to the new challenges facing the Push-Pull method (e.g. the biotic stress resulting from global climate change evident in previous project phases) and test and disseminate the results in cooperation with local farmers.
- By 2012, some 50% of the direct beneficiaries of the Push-Pull method had reliable access to food; during the next phase, it is aimed to increase this figure to 70%.
Since the start of the project, 71 “Farmer Field Schools” have been established. They are providing practical training in sustainable farming techniques for more than 4,000 farmers. At the same time, the method itself has been refined; easy-to-understand information has been disseminated and complete Push-Pull “starter packs” including desmodium seeds distributed to farmers.
In 2013, one of the farmers participating in the project was honoured by the Ministry of Agriculture for his services to organic agriculture and the production of goats’ milk.
The average age of small farmers has increased in recent years. The project team recognises that it is particularly important to generate interest in agriculture amongst younger members of the population; they are the farmers of the future.