Sitting on the ground, Loufouma Kaison uses a small knife to peel cassava tubers. He piles the cut pieces on a bare patch of his field before putting them into sacks.
Surrounded by the movement of wind through the tall grass, he feels content. The ants that crawl all around don’t seem to bother him.
The 28-year-old farmer has a one-hectare farm in Bouenza Department, in southwestern Republic of the Congo. He grows cassava, which is made into fufu flour and used to prepare a popular local dish. But a few years ago, he lost much of his harvest to insects.
He explains, “I was putting ashes in the sacks. But it didn’t work at all. I lost my harvest; a lot was wasted.”
Mr. Kaison couldn’t think of a solution, until he remembered bulukutu leaves, or bissaka mbou as they are called in Bouenza, which literally means “which keeps mosquitoes away.” The scientific name for the bulukutu plant is Lippia multiflora. The plant grows in the Congolese savannah, and is typically gathered from the wild rather than cultivated.
Mr. Kaison’s parents used these leaves to protect their sacks of beans, dried peas, and other crops from hungry insects.
He says: “I learned from my parents that the bulukutu leaves keep all harmful insects out of the dried peas in storage. That’s why I use them. In each sack of beans, maize, or even groundnuts, I place bulukutu tea leaves and then I close it. I’ve also started to put them in my sacks of fufu. I put at least five packets [in each sack]. The smell of these leaves will fill the whole sack and no insect can get in.”
Pests no longer attack his stored cassava, and he no longer suffers losses. He can keep his harvest for a year without insects destroying it.
Nkoula Anne Marie is a 53-year-old farmer whose field is right next to Mr. Kaison’s. Pests ate part of her pea and bean harvest.
She says: “Bissaka mbou is a boon for us here in Bouenza. Apart from drinking it as tea every morning, it is also a helpful insecticide. I put the leaves into my sacks of maize, fufu, and beans … and the insects don’t dare try to enter the sacks.”
In each 10- to 20-kilogram sack, Mrs. Nkoula places five or six leafy bulukutu stems. She puts as many as 10 stems in a 50-kg sack. Then she closes the sacks with metal wire or nylon thread.
Fulbert N’Senda is an agriculture development engineer with Congo’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. He says Lippia multiflora contains an oil that is made up of camphor and borneol, which acts as a powerful and effective insecticide.
He says: “Bulukutu is a diuretic that gives off an insect-repellent odour, just like lemon grass. Insects can’t stand the smell. When you put these leaves in your stores, they release an odour that permeates the beans, cassava, or groundnuts, and suddenly the insects flee.”
Mr. N’Senda adds that using bulukutu leaves is a natural technique to keep insects away, and has no side effects on people or on the stored food. He advises farmers to put the leaves in their storehouses to keep pests away from maize and other harvested crops.
Photo: Loufouma Kaison