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Mozambique: Pigeon pea farmers use traditional methods to protect harvest from pests

Zacarias Nelson wakes up early in the morning to apply fertilizer to his pigeon pea farm. Within a few hours, the sun is shining brightly and the heat is intense. Although the 51-year-old farmer is expecting a bumper harvest, he is worried that he may lose some of his pigeon peas to pests such as weevils.

He says: “I consider it essential to protect my pigeon pea harvest to avoid and reduce the losses that happen due to rotting and pest infestation. After harvest, the weevils attack pigeon peas and if a farmer did not dry the harvest very well, humidity causes the crop to start rotting.”                                                                                                                         

Mr. Nelson lives in Gondola village in the Manica province of western Mozambique. He has been farming for over ten years, but started growing pigeon peas only two years ago.

To deal with pests, Mr. Nelson used to apply pesticides, but then stopped because they are expensive. 

He explains: “To maintain the quality of my harvest, I used to apply a pesticide which can protect the harvest for three to six months. But because this pesticide is very expensive, I now use maize ash, which is the traditional way of controlling weevils in pigeon peas.”

Humidity causes the pigeon peas to rot during storage. He says, “To protect my pigeon peas [from the humidity], I dry and pack them in bags and store them in a cool, dry place with a temperature of 25 to 30 degrees.”

Jonas Augusto Alfinete also grows pigeon peas in Manica province. Because pesticides are expensive, he is also looking for ways to protect pigeon peas from weevils.

Mr. Alfinete says that he is among many farmers in his area who use traditional methods to control weevils. He adds: “I store unshelled pigeon peas in a sealed plastic drum, thereby extending the shelf life up to three months. I also use a wood cook fire underneath my barn; the smoke from the fire drives the weevils away from the pigeon peas.”

Elias Massiza is a professional agro-livestock technician at the District Economic Activity Service in Manica province. He says that, due to the high prices of airtight bags, farmers have resorted to old methods of preserving their harvests. 

Mr. Massiza explains: “There are two ways of preserving pigeon pea harvest—traditional and modern. Traditionally, beans are preserved in their shells in a clay pot, drum, or conventional bags. However, storing pigeon peas in their shells is not advisable, because it facilitates rotting, and non-airtight bags can allow the pigeon peas to be affected by humidity. Another alternative would be to use barns.” 

According to Mr. Massiza, pests that affect the flowering and post-harvest stages of pigeon peas include the miner grub, the elegant grasshopper, and weevils.

To manage pests in the post-harvest period, Mr. Massiza says that farmers should spray pesticides if they can afford it. He adds: “If they don’t have money, farmers can apply maize ash and cement or just maize ash. They can also use the technique taught by their ancestors of cooking below the barn and allowing the smoke from the fire to keep pests away.”

Mr. Massiza says: “Currently, the farmers in rural areas cannot afford to buy pesticides. Therefore, I recommend that farmers should alternatively use home-grown organic pesticides such as maize ash, especially during vegetative, growth, flowering, and even post-harvest stages. These are free and farmers don’t lose money.” 

Although Mr. Nelson is struggling to preserve his pigeon pea harvest from weevils, he can manage them and support his family by using these traditional methods. He says: “Last year I earned 7,000 Mozambican meticals (US$109) and managed to support my family, pay my children’s school expenses, and buy inputs for the next farming season.”

This resource was supported with the aid of a grant from The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) implementing the Green Innovation Centre project.

Photo: Harvested pigeon pea in Kenya, July 2016. Credit: Muthoni Njiru for AVCD.