Push-Pull Tolay

Sustainable agriculture and rural development in Tolay

“Push-Pull” (www.push-pull.net) is an integrated, sustainable method of farming that improves maize 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 or brachiaria is planted as a border crop. It attracts the stemborers away from the maize. (“Pull”). Desmodium can also fix nitrogen and neutralise the striga weed. This increases yields without the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides. Napier grass and brachiaria are also a welcome source of healthy animal fodder. Following its successful use in Kenya, the aim of the project is to extend this environmentally-friendly method to the Tolay region in Ethiopia. The project supplements existing activities in and around Tolay such as malaria control and beekeeping.

Farmer Bekeleh Tesfaye from Tolay has been successfully using the Push-Pull method for two years.


To improve the food security and incomes of resource-poor smallholders in Tolay and Shoa Robit by significantly expanding the use of the Push-Pull method of cultivation. 


Some 300,000 people live in the project regions of Tolay and Shoa Robit in Ethiopia. They are mainly dependent upon farming for their livelihood and 50% of them live below the poverty line. Soil quality is often poor and this combined with climatic conditions, i.e. a lack of rain, mean that maize and millet are the main sources of food in the regions. However, harvests are under serious threat from a range of adverse influences: Pests such as the stemborer, poor soil quality and the striga weed (only in Shoa Robit) are major problems for small farmers. The Push-Pull method offers a solution as it significantly increases maize and millet yields and improves soil fertility in an environmentally friendly way. 


A total of 14,450 people will benefit directly from the project.  In each of the 24 villages, a total of 20 “model farmers” will be trained in the Push-Pull method of cultivation. Each of these 480 model farmers will then be assigned 5 farmers, all of whom have expressed an interest in the method. This approach will produce 2,400 demonstration farmers. The same multiplier approach will then be repeated and each of these farmers will be assigned 5 farmers. In addition, 4 agricultural experts and 52 government advisers will be trained in the  Push-Pull method.  
The number of indirect beneficiaries in the regions is 25,000. They live in the project regions and will benefit from improved food security and on request will also receive desmodium, napier grass or brachiaria seeds from neighbouring farmers so that they can introduce the Push-Pull method on their farms. In addition, families will benefit from the lower maize prices resulting from the higher yields and the increased availability of milk.

Activities 2016-2018

  • Demonstration fields using the Push-Pull method of cultivation will be established on various farms in the project regions. The fields will be used for training purposes, the exchange of experience and the collection of data.  At the same time, control fields will be established that do not use the Push-Pull method. This will allow a comparison and demonstration of the fields with and without the Push-Pull method.  
  • A total of 2,400 farmers will be trained by icipe in the Push-Pull method. Acting as “model farmers”, they in turn will pass on their knowledge to other farmers.  In addition, training will be given to 52 government agricultural advisers and 4 Push-Pull experts.
  • In order to avoid the import of expensive desmodium and napier grass/brachiaria seed, local varieties of these seeds will be tested in order to create a source of local seed.
  • Existing networks will be strengthened by including government institutions and not-for-profit organisations. This will further extend the spread of the Push-Pull method.
Desmodium and napier grass/brachiaria provide nutritious feed for the cattle, which significantly increases milk production.


A total of 4,025 farmers have been trained in the Push-Pull method of cultivation – either direct by icipe or by one of the trained model farmers. Once trained, model farmers are given a training manual on the Push-Pull method. In addition, 1,400 leaflets on Push-Pull have been distributed to other farmers who have expressed an interest. To ensure the immediate introduction of the method, the project has imported and distributed 500 kg of desmodium and 750 kg of brachiaria seeds to farmers.  The seeds come from Indonesia and Australia and are imported into Ethiopia via Kenya. In addition, a total of 13 meetings have been held with interested farmers in order to gauge perceptions and their ideas on the Push-Pull method.
In Tolay, 90 demonstration fields have been planted with maize and millet – in each of the 9 villages selected for the first project phase, 5 demonstration fields have been planted using the Push-Pull method and 6 control fields without the use of desmodium and napier grass/brachiaria. The fields are the same size and are treated identically. The project officers take soil samples locally five times a year in order to check soil fertility. The results in the fields where desmodium and brachiaria have been grown between the maize and millet have been very good:  Soil fertility improved by  47% (in particular nitrogen levels increased significantly). The maize harvest increased by 37.6%. In addition, the data collected on the milk yields from cattle before and after being fed with desmodium and brachiaria, showed a significant increase in milk production after the cattle had been fed with the two grasses. The farmers using the Push-Pull method had higher incomes than those who did not.
A total of 4 stakeholder meetings have been held with strategic partners such as the Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD), the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research (EIAR) and the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA). Local project staff and government organisations have discussed how responsibility for the implementation of the Push-Pull method can be shared in Ethiopia.  The MoA has shown considerable interest in this method of cultivation and regards it as one of the best solutions for the main problems affecting small farmers. As a result, it has been incorporated into the Five Year Strategy for Ethiopia.

Using the Push-Pull method, many farming families can significant improve their maize harvests.