How does Push-Pull Pest Management Work?

Written by
Eryn Austin-Bergen
Published on
April 11, 2024 at 2:20:22 PM PDT April 11, 2024 at 2:20:22 PM PDTth, April 11, 2024 at 2:20:22 PM PDT

Push-pull technology is a type of companion planting first developed in East Africa at the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology. It empowers smallholder farmers to repel plant-destroying pests without needing to buy expensive products like synthetic pesticide. 

FH Uganda has been teaching this method along with other climate-smart, sustainable farming techniques to families in Bukiende. Trainees like Betty have had phenomenal success with it! She’s also really good at explaining this complex approach to pest management. 

“I learned push-pull technology. Here we plant elephant grass (Napier grass) around the boundaries of the garden, then plant maize in the middle and add desmodium, a legume planted in between cereals. Its main purpose is the smell that it produces [which] scares away pests like the maize stalk borer. The elephant grass helps trap the pests that run away from the desmodium. They lay eggs [in the grass] but since Napier is hairy the eggs will not hatch—both the pest and the eggs end up dying.”

Example of the desmodium plant.

This practice of keeping pests away from crops has revolutionized the ability of small-scale farmers, who have little access to resources outside their communities, to grow food for their families and produce cash crops for income. 

Betty shares, “This technology has helped me because I get high yields in a small piece of land and pests do not attack my crops. I used to harvest four bags of maize from one acre but, now, I harvest 15 bags of maize [per acre] which gives me approximately 1,500 kilograms [of maize] in a single season.

"My neighbourhood has adopted this technology and we are hoping for the best!”

In addition to improved income, Betty and her family are enjoying being healthy! 

Having fresh, organic vegetables right outside their door, year-round, is really making a difference. She planted a resource efficient garden called a keyhole garden. 

Betty explains, “These keyhole vegetable gardens are manageable—you can have greens throughout the year because you can easily water the garden and cultivate vegetables. The health of my family and community has improved because greens provide vitamins, minerals, iron, and zinc which are good for a person’s health. My own eyesight has improved because my diet has changed!”

Betty grows multiple crops in both her keyhole garden and on her fields, using push-pull technology to keep those pests off her produce!

Before Betty took agricultural training and learned push-pull technology, things were not going well in her home. Their house had a leaky roof and their children were often sent home from school because of unpaid fees. She and her husband fought often over these issues. “We were unhappy as a family,” Betty adds. 

But as Betty’s improved harvests began to pull in more income, their family stress eased. Betty and her neighbours no longer had to travel to buy vegetables in the large market; instead, they saved that money to buy books for their children.

Within a year of joining a Savings and Loans group, she had accumulated enough savings to buy a mother cow and her calf! She continues to save and now has her sights set on getting a bull and a plough to make hand-farming less strenuous and more efficient for her family. 

"I feel happy because conflicts in the family have stopped!" Betty beams.

“I can now afford whatever I want. My business skills have grown and I now manage a small private school as a Headmistress. My community has changed as children now attend school and mothers give birth at the health facility, so this makes me feel happy!”

You can help more mothers like Betty learn push-pull technology and grow food security for their children.

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