Zimbabwe: Farmers use wood ash to protect stored maize from pests

| December 22, 2014

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It is a sunny Sunday afternoon and Violet Mguni is busy shelling maize. She sits in the shade, mixing maize kernels with wood ash to protect them from weevils and grain borers. This traditional method saves money   ̶  and it works!

Mrs. Mguni farms in Fort Rixon, in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland North province. She spent the previous day burning parts of a leadwood tree to make ash. She explains, “I sieve the ash from the fireplace and mix it with the maize before [storing it] in the granary.”

She says leadwood ash prevents grain borers and weevils from breeding, thus protecting the stored maize.

Grain borers and weevils are the biggest challenge for many small-scale farmers in Zimbabwe. Infestations can trigger losses of 20 to 50 per cent of stored grain.

Mrs. Mguni has greatly reduced her post-harvest losses since she started using wood ash. The method is cost-effective. She explains: “It’s all at no cost. I only have to harvest the leadwood from the nearby bushes and burn it. The ash suffocates pests and grain borers. They have no chance of surviving.”

Silas Nkala is an agricultural expert based in Gwanda, in Matabeleland South province. He says wood ash has proved over time to be an effective method to control pests.

He explains that the ashes make it difficult for the pests to breathe and eat. Unable to take in enough moisture from their food, the insects dry out and die from suffocation before they are able to reproduce.

Simon Makhaza is a farmer in Madlambuzi, in Matabeleland South province. He says, “Our forefathers were using this method to control insects. I have also been using this method for many years.”

Donald Khumalo is a former president of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union. He says using ash to treat grain has been tried and tested, and the results consistently show that wood ash is effective at eliminating grain borers and weevils.

Mr. Khumalo says: “Grain treated with wood ash is known to last for about five years, whereas maize treated with contemporary methods like chemicals … can last only one season.”

He says that wood ash is economic and effective when compared to expensive chemicals which may have adverse effects on human health.

Mrs. Mguni is happy to use the cheaper, traditional way of protecting her maize. She no longer worries about post-harvest losses. She says: “I have had no problems with the grain borers after using the wood ash. I [can] rest assured that my maize is protected in the granary.”