Anne Mireille Nzouankeu | August 5, 2013
Assana Boubacar walks carefully between two rows of stacked jute bags. Occasionally, she stops and places some dried tobacco leaves underneath one of the bags. She repeats this process all through her storage room. She explains, “I use tobacco leaves in my warehouse, because they repel insects that want to eat my harvest.”
Mrs. Boubacar farms in Tokombéré, a village in northern Cameroon. She grows beans and groundnuts, known locally as “peanuts.”
With each harvest, she gathers about 10 bags of beans and 15 bags of peanuts. She eats some and sells the rest. Because selling her produce can take several months, she stores her yields in a warehouse.
The 36-year-old farmer uses a novel two-step method to keep her harvest healthy in storage. The first stage begins immediately after harvest. She explains, “I soak chili pepper in water. I strain the mixture and then spray the grains lightly. Then I let them dry before bagging.”
Once the bags are stored, Mrs. Boubacar places dry tobacco leaves around them. After a week, she replaces the old leaves with new ones. She has used these two methods in tandem for three years. The stored beans and peanuts have remained healthy until they are all sold.
Bernard Njonga is an agronomist and president of the Citizens Association for the Defence of Collective Interests, one of the largest farmers’ associations in Cameroon. He encourages this method of storage. He says, “It is good to do a pre-treatment [with chili] before storage. There are pests that leave the field [with the seeds] after harvest as larvae, but mature during storage.”
He explains that the insects already in the bags cannot be killed with biological insecticides such as tobacco leaves. But the tobacco leaves stop further insects from reaching the stored seed.
Mrs. Boubacar says: “I was desperate the first year [I tried it] because I had lost all my harvest. The seeds were devoured by insects. When I opened a bag, only powder and weevils would come out.” Although her friends and relations offered several tips, they proved to be of no use. Mrs. Boubacar was initiated into the practice by a neighbour. In Tokombéré, these storage methods are traditionally passed on by word of mouth.
Mr. Njonga explains that the method has its disadvantages. The capacity of natural products to work as insect repellents is short-lived. So the process has to be repeated frequently. In addition, there is no exact dosage, so farmers have to rely on their instincts. But there is very little chance of overdosing, as the products used in this technique are relatively harmless to humans.
The agronomist points out other advantages of using biological insecticides. Usually, chemical products require a “withdrawal period” after application. During this period, foods should not be consumed, due to the toxicity of the products. But, as Mr. Njonga explains, “These substances are not poisonous, so foods that have been sprayed with the natural product can still be eaten immediately.”
Mrs. Boubacar’s success has helped her family. She is proud that her eldest son, Ali, has just passed his Baccalaureate. When his father died, Ali was unable to attend school for two years because the family had no money. Ali says: “It was when my mother found a cheap and efficient crop protection method that she was able to restart her business. We were able to return to school with the first harvest!”
Mrs. Boubacar takes pride in being able to occasionally give sweets and chocolates to her six children. She recalls: “After the death of my husband, we had one meal a day. Some days we had so little that I deprived myself so that my children could have a larger portion. Today, we eat our fill, and sometimes we can have extras such as sweets. “