Wpid Scatteringfertilizer
Fertilizers

For several years, farmer Bernard Nkanya has been growing pawpaws, bananas and watermelons organically in Tharaka Nithi, central Kenya.

The farmer has been relying on animal and crop waste to make manure to fertilize the crop and an array of organic pesticides to deal with harmful insects.

Business24

This year, however, things have been a little harder for the farmer when it comes to pest eradication thanks to hostile weather.

The farmer, like hundreds of others across Kenya, has battled mealybugs for the last five months amid a lengthy dry spell, which offered a perfect breeding environment for the pests.

“I was tempted to use chemical pesticides because the insects were in huge numbers and resistant to the chilli and aloe vera organic concoctions I was using. I managed to fight them but I lost some of my pawpaws. Still, I am not sure if they are completely gone,” he said on phone on Friday.

Besides aloe and chilli, farmers in Kenya also make organic pesticides from neem, garlic, tithonia, rabbit urine, lantana and Mexican marigold.

Nkanya is one of the organic farmers in the east African nation torn between growing crops completely without chemicals or partly using them to stem increasingly stubborn pests.

Experts have blamed the rise and resistance of pests and diseases on changing climatic and environmental conditions, which have brought forth ravenous insects like Tuta absoluta and fall armyworms and emboldened common pests like mealybugs, whiteflies and aphids.

Bacterial blight, head smut, rust and bacterial wilt are other diseases that are giving farmers in the east African nation headache as the weather becomes erratic, oscillating between dry spell, cold weather and occasional heavy rains.

To make organic pesticides, the plants are harvested, crushed and then mixed with water to form concoctions that are sprayed on crops to kill pests.

Sticky traps and pheromone baits are also employed in organic farming to eliminate some pests besides intercropping vegetables or tomatoes with herbs or onions, which act as pest repellent. These methods are, however, being tested by climate change.

“I have been mixing marigold, garlic and chilli to fight blight on my potatoes and it worked in the past but the cold this year become severe with temperatures falling much lower making it harder to fight the disease. The temptation to use inorganic pesticides is so high,” said Veronica Wanjuki, an organic farmer based in Kinangop, North West of Nairobi.

Wanjiku noted that there are commercially available organic pesticides, but their availability and accessibility due to high prices makes their use limited.

“Organic produce earns better prices because people want food that is chemical-free and is healthy. But the temptation to go inorganic when the concoctions are not working effectively is very high,” said Wanjiku.

Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro-consultancy, said increasingly resistant pests are making some small-scale organic farmers veer off the course.

“To use pesticides is a decision that many organic farmers are being forced to make to save their crops. The weather is hard on farmers and the pests are equally becoming more resistant,” she said.

The Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis notes that up to five million tons of organic food is produced in the east African nation for export and domestic markets. Enditem

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