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A: Disease control using compost extracts

By Daniel Oloo Otieno, Agricultural Coordinator, INADES-Formation, Kenya

HOST: Compost extracts can be used to protect crops from plant fungal diseases. Mix thoroughly decomposed, one-month-old compost with water at a ratio between 1:5 and 1:8. Allow it to ferment for one week. Strain it through cheesecloth and apply it using an ordinary sprayer. This solution is effective against many plant diseases. Research is showing that sterilized compost does not work which indicates that the microorganisms in compost are necessary for the control process. The significant results obtained in experiments using compost extract show that it has potential to be a safe, cheap, and effective means of plant protection.

B: Neem controls household pests

By Vrinda Kumble, Bangalore, India

HOST: We have found that neem is good not only against crop and stored grain pests, but also against household pests. We place a layer of dried neem leaves on the bottom of the carton when we pack books and pictures away. We scatter a few more leaves through the carton and then finish with another layer of neem leaves on the top. It seems to hold off silverfish at least for a few months.

A few years ago, we were plagued by bedbugs brought in the bedding of some train travellers. Insecticide dusts and sprays, commercial pest control, and all other measures succeeded only up to a point. Then the insects would be back. The solution? Shade-dried neem leaves spread under the mattresses for about three weeks. The bugs vanished and haven’t returned. We repeat the neem leaf treatment every few months, just to be sure.

C: Grow lettuce seedlings using bamboo

By Shamela Rambadan, Teacher, Trinidad

HOST: Select a straight bamboo stem about 3 metres (10 feet) long. It is best to select a stem with a large diameter, approximately 12 centimetres (5 inches). Slit the stem lengthwise. Make a cut at one end of the bamboo stem using a cutlass on the uppermost quarter of the bamboo. Now run the cutlass from one end (on the same cut) to the next. This way you will remove a strip of bamboo from the uppermost quarter.

What you have just made is a trough just deep enough to grow any shallow rooted crop such as lettuce. This trough is separated by joints of the stem. These sections or joints can be removed from inside the trough by using a hammer and chisel or a strong stick with a sharp point and a stone.

Next, you need to provide some drainage for your lettuce. This can be done in two ways. One way is to again remove a strip of bamboo stem, this time from the bottom. But the strip must not be more than 1 centimetre wide (almost 1/2 inch). Otherwise, all the soil will fall through. This 1-centimetre-wide strip must be removed throughout the full length of the bamboo. Or you can drill small holes in each joint. Use a large corkscrew or a cutlass to drill the holes.

If you want, you can raise the trough instead of laying it on the ground. Just cut three pieces of bamboo to the same length—about 1 metre (3 feet). At one end of each of these pieces of bamboo make a “V” shaped incision. This incision should be large enough to fit the trough. Next, dig three holes in the ground at least 15-20 centimetres (6-8 inches) deep, and put each bamboo piece in a hole. Pack the soil around the base of the bamboo so that the bamboo is secure and does not shake. The three stems should be placed at 1, 1 1/2, and 3 metre distances (0, 5, and 10 feet) so that they can firmly support the bamboo trough. This arrangement should support the length of the bamboo trough with the stem at 1 1/2 metres (5 feet) supporting the middle of the trough. Slip the trough into the “V” grooves and your bamboo trough is completed. Now fill the trough with soil rich in organic matter and you are ready for planting.

D: Fish trap made from raffia palm or palm stalks

By Opoku Ampofo Manu, Senior Projects Manager, State Oil Palm Plantation, Ghana

HOST: I wish to explain how farmers in my area catch fish with a trap made from raffia palm or palm stalks. They tie as many as 30 sticks tightly together with rope from the bush. About one or two openings are left at the mouth and middle of the trap but the bottom is tightened. They carve the openings in a way that the fish cannot get out after they have entered the trap.

Then they put the trap in a shallow river or pond and fix it to the bottom with two pegs. The pegging prevents the trap from moving. The farmers put roasted cassava and palm nuts into the trap to attract fish, crabs, and snails. After a day or two, they inspect it and if there is a catch, they loosen the bottom of the trap and pull it up to collect the fish. Then, once again, they tighten and peg the trap under the water for another catch.

E: Soil conservation and improvement with cover crops

By Lic. Mafalda Adlan de Vargas, Paraguay

HOST: Most cash crops in our country are summer crops. Soil preparation for sowing is done in the final months of winter (for example for corn, yucca, potato, beans, and kidney beans, etc.). However, cotton and soy, the main sources of income, are sown at the beginning of spring.

Soil preparation results in the soil becoming denuded precisely when the rains are the most intense and most frequent. Since the soil is not in good condition to collect all the water that falls on it, soil erosion problems start. There is also a lack of reserves in the soil makeup, in addition to the loss of fertility, that is to say, organic material, from the high temperatures at this time of year.

So what can you do to protect the soil from the rains and the high temperatures, that also allows you to sow without being inconvenienced?

Technicians from a German Technical Mission and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of Paraguay have experimented with a wide variety of species of crawling legumes that have been known since early times for their soil conservation effects. Until now they have only found one species that qualifies, Stizolobium deeringianum Bort., also known by its other names of Porota de Florida (Florida bean) or mucuna ceniza (ash velvet bean), and in general as Porotos aterciopelados (velvet beans). (Editor’s note: It also has the scientific name Mucuna pruriens.) These originally come from the West Indies, along with the species S. aterrinum Piper and Tracy, commonly known as mucuna negra (black velvet bean).

What is the technique of managing the ash velvet bean, and which is the best way to use it in small crops of cotton and corn?

Start the cycle by sowing the corn. First, you weed at the best moment. Then weed again if necessary. Some 95 to 110 days after sowing the corn, sow the velvet beans in two rows between every two rows of corn. So the crops look like this: a row of corn, two of velvet bens, a row of corn, two of velvet beans, and so on. The distance between the bean rows is about 0.5 metres.

Sow the velvet beans at one or two seeds per hole, placing them about 4 cm deep. The distance between each hole should be 0.4 to 0.5 metres.

The velvet beans will grow and will start to climb over the corn plants. Then harvest the corn.

Forty to 60 days after you harvest the corn, cut down the velvet beans by machete along with the remains of the corn plants, just before the velvet beans have completed their cycle. Thus, you have a cushion of vegetable wastes in decomposition on top of the soil surface and so the soil surface stays protected.

When it comes time to sow the corn (or cotton) again, sow them without using implements that will turn up the soil. Sow directly on the corn and bean stubble, opening small spaces in the vegetable matter and placing the seed in the usual way.

So the field has been seeded, and has a “cushion” of bean and corn plant waste protecting the soil around each corn or cotton seedling. This covering protects the soil against the drumming of the rain, the sun’s strong rays, and in addition, makes further weeding unnecessary because it impedes the germination of a large number of plants around the crop.

You can establish, then, on a part of the farmer’s land, a rotation of crops in the following sequence, that could be multiplied to other parts of the land under cultivation, thereby maintaining the soil productive and covered:

corn + velvet bean … velvet bean waste + corn … corn … etc.


corn + velvet bean … velvet bean waste + corn … cotton … etc.

In Brazil, the large wheat, soy, and corn producers use the black velvet bean (S. aterrinum) in rotation in an appropriate manner, (and about which we don’t have direct knowledge), but their results appear excellent.