Sawa Pius | October 31, 2022
It’s a bright, sunny morning and Shadrack Etangasait is preparing a backyard vegetable garden outside his iron-roofed house. A group of farmers is watching him keenly to learn how to control pests with locally available materials. Natural mixtures for managing pests can be easy and cheap to make because farmers use locally available materials like garlic, bulb onions, red chili, tethonia leaves, neem (locally known as muarubaini), animal urine, soap, and ash. When pest attacks are more serious, he adds fresh goat or rabbit urine to the mixture. Many local farmers use brooms to apply the homemade pesticide. Mr. Etangasait says, “We pour the mixture in a bowl, then dip the bottom of the broom in it, and shake it over the crops.”
It’s a bright sunny morning and Shadrack Etangasait is preparing a backyard vegetable garden outside his iron-roofed house. The 31-year-old farmer digs the soil with a hoe and uses a rake to remove weeds, stones, and plastic.
A group of farmers is watching him keenly. They are here to learn how to prepare land for growing vegetables, and how to control pests with cheap and locally available materials.
Mr. Etangasait dashes to the cowshed and collects dry manure. He mixes it into the garden soil with a spade. He explains, “I am dividing my vegetable garden into different portions. I am also digging holes and dropping vegetable seedlings in each of the holes.”
He adds: “These seedlings are from a nursery behind my house. I cover the holes with thin soil, just enough to hold the seedlings straight. I then use a five-litre plastic can to sprinkle water over them so that they don’t die.”
Mr. Etangasait hails from Kamunoit village in western Kenya’s Busia county. He grows kale, amaranth, and black nightshade in his backyard garden. But he struggled for many years to manage pests that attacked his vegetables and other crops.
He recalls: “I had no money to buy chemicals from agrovet shops. I had been planting the vegetables, expecting to get enough yield for sale and for home consumption. But I was always disappointed because of pests like caterpillars, aphids, scale, whiteflies, fungus gnats, cutworms, and leaf miners.”
Pests were also affecting the village farmers who have come to learn from Mr. Etangasait today.
Mr. Etangasait says he learned about controlling pests and diseases in 2014 at Bukura Agricultural College in Kenya. When he returned to his village after two years, he set up a demonstration plot and since then, farmers have come from throughout the region to learn from him.
He says that, when other farmers realized that local, non-chemical solutions really worked, they started to use them in their own fields.
Natural mixtures for managing pests can be easy and cheap to make because farmers use locally available materials like garlic, bulb onions, red chili, tethonia leaves, neem (locally known as muarubaini), animal urine, soap, and ash.
He says that, when vegetables are not affected too badly by the pests, he collects 500 grams of this mixture, crushes the ingredients, adds one litre of water, and leaves the solution for 24 hours before applying.
Mr. Etangasait says the mixture is not harmful to the environment. He explains, “We don’t kill the pests because they are important to the environment. We just stop them from eating up the crops by repelling them.”
He adds: “Garlic kills the ability of the pests to reproduce, while the neem leaves kill the female scent so that the male cannot get attracted so that mating shouldn’t take place.”
When pest attacks are more serious, he adds fresh goat or rabbit urine to the mixture at a ratio of either two, three, four, or five parts urine to five parts of the mixture, depending on the severity of damage and the pest population.
He explains: “We apply the mixture to the crops once a week for up to four weeks. We use bar soap foam to help our pesticide stick to the crops long enough without being washed away by rain.”
Because many farmers cannot afford knapsacks for spraying, they use a broom to apply the homemade pesticide. Mr. Etangasait says, “We pour the mixture in a bowl, then dip the bottom of the broom in it, and shake it over the crops.”
John Atyang is a farmer in the same village who manages pests with the local mixture. He grows kale and indigenous vegetables like black nightshade and amaranth on a quarter-acre of land.
Mr. Atyang’s vegetable business is now booming. He says that, before he used this local solution, nobody wanted to buy his vegetables because the leaves were damaged by pests and diseases and full of holes.
George Barasa’s and Joseph Panyako’s farms have also yielded well after they learned from Mr. Etangasait. Mr. Panyako says, “This method is cost effective and friendly to the environment. With this natural pesticide, we no longer use chemicals which are dangerous both to the environment and to human health.”
Because most households have bigger maize farms than vegetable farms, the challenge is how to make enough of the mixture to control pests and diseases in maize fields. It can be labour-intensive to gather enough materials to manage maize pests.
Before learning this local and more affordable way to control pests, Mr. Etangasait was unable to earn money from vegetables because he sold so little. But now, he is able to support his family.
He explains: “I am now doing vegetable farming as a main source of my income. With the money I am earning, I am able to pay school fees for my children. I also manage to buy food for my parents and pay for their medical bills.”
Photo: Shadrack Etangasait is preparing a backyard vegetable garden outside his iron-roofed house. Credit: Sawa Pius.