Cameroon: Farmers protect their crops with homemade insecticides (by Anne Mireille Nzouankeu, for Farm Radio Weekly in Cameroon)

| August 27, 2012

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Moutourwa is a small village in northern Cameroon which is invaded by insect pests every year. The creatures cause huge headaches for small-scale farmers, who often do not have enough money to buy imported chemical insecticides. Thérèse Bilama is a local farmer who grows okra and cowpeas. She says, “One year, I lost all my crops in four days because I did not have enough money [for insecticides] until three days after we noticed the first attack.”

Every year, the women who were unable to buy chemical insecticides lost all their production. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization responded by training some women in the village how to make and use natural insecticides.  After her difficult experiences, Mrs. Bilama has now found a cheaper solution.

For the last three years, she has been making and using a natural insecticide. She describes the process: “The insecticide can be made with chili pepper, tobacco leaves or neem seeds. You crush or grind two big handfuls of pepper, and put that in 10 litres of water. Then add 10 grams of grated or powdered household soap to the mixture. Sieve this and pour into the sprayer.” She cautions to use only a small amount of soap so that it does not stick to the sprayer. Mrs. Bilama says the process is slightly different when using tobacco or neem leaves.

She explains how she uses the insecticide: “I spray once a week when the first flowers appear. For cowpea, I continue spraying two to three weeks after the end of flowering until the pods are dry.” According to Mrs. Bilama, the pods cannot be attacked by insects when they are dry.

Gertrude Kalsoumi is a farmer from the same village. She has also used this natural insecticide with great satisfaction. She offers another tip, “Put some neem leaves in the bags where you store cowpea seeds – they will not be attacked by aphids during storage.”

Some farmers, like Awa Kouda, still prefer chemical insecticides. She says: “I spray once before flowering, once during, and again for a third time after flowering. It is true that I spend sometimes up to 50,000 CFA francs (around US $95), but my crops are protected and I cover this expense after the sale.”

Rodrigue Mbarga is responsible for education at the Ministry of Environment and Protection of Nature in Cameroon. He encourages the use of biological insecticides, saying: “In assessing the advantages and disadvantages of each type of protection, we can say that biological insecticides are far better than chemical insecticides because they are cheaper, more available, less toxic and easy to use.” According to Mr. Mbarga, biological insecticides are safe, and they do not affect the taste or nutritional value of the plant. He says that natural pesticides work only on the plant, and are not harmful to the environment. Mr. Mbarga warns that chemical insecticides can pollute soil and water sources. They also kill insects that are beneficial to the plants, like bees and predatory insects that kill plant pests.

Awa Kouda agrees that the locally-made insecticide gives the same result as chemical insecticides at lower cost. But she says: “I was not there when FAO trained the women. Instead, I received advice from experts of the Ministry of Agriculture who recommended these insecticides. This is why I continue to use them. In case of a problem, I know who I should complain to.”

But Mrs. Bilama is happy with her choice. She says, “Since I started using the local insecticide, I am less stressed because I no longer need to buy chemical insecticides. When I do not want to buy tobacco leaves in the market, I just pick peppers behind my house.”