Have you heard …?



Save and edit this resource as a Word document

From Guatemala: Elder tree leaves fertilize soil


HOST: In the Department of San Marcos in Guatemala, farmers fertilize the soil with leaves from elder trees. The elder tree (Sambucus nigra) is a traditional tree of the uplands. The people of San Marcos say the leaves of this tree are like medicine for the soil.

The farmers propagate elder trees on their farms. They cut branches 60 centimetres (24 inches) long from mature elder trees. They plant these branch cuttings in the ground in different locations on their land 4 metres (12 feet) apart. This is done after the rains have started, generally in June or July. One year after planting the branch cutting, the tree is strong enough to have leaves cut from it.

The farmers of San Marcos plant their maize at the beginning of May. One month later (mid-June), it is time to fertilize the soil with the elder tree leaves. They take two handfuls of leaves. They dig a hole around the growing maize plant about 20 centimetres from the roots. There they bury the handfuls of elder tree leaves.

The soil in San Marcos is sandy and infertile. The farmers depend on this method to fertilize the soil. If they don’t fertilize in this way, they harvest less maize.


From Sri Lanka: Neem insecticides control cabbage pests


HOST: The effectiveness of neem insecticides on cabbage pests was studied at the Gami Seva Sevana Farm in Galaha, Sri Lanka.

The experiment tested two different quantities (50 g and 80 g) of neem seed kernels mixed with 1 litre of water. It also tested two different quantities (20 g and 40 g) of ground neem cake mixed with one litre of water. The neem mixtures were first applied one month after transplanting the cabbage, and then throughout the season whenever a few cabbage caterpillars were seen in the garden. Cabbagehead caterpillars (Crocidolomia binotolus) and diamond-back moths (Plutella xylostella) were the two most common pests found on the cabbage.

All the neem mixtures controlled these major pests. The lower concentration (50 grams of neem seed kernels/litre water) gave the best results. Higher concentrations (80 grams seed kernels/litre water) of the insecticide seemed to be harmful to the cabbage.

The neem tree grows wild in many parts of Sri Lanka, and many parts of the neem tree are useful in making insecticides. The researchers recommended that more research should be done using lower concentrations of the mixtures already tested and using other plant parts to control a variety of crop pests.

The study was supported by German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ).


From Lesotho: Blue catches bean pests


HOST: The blister beetle (Mylabris spp.) is a serious pest of cowpeas and beans in Africa. It causes such severe damage that small-holder farmers can lose their entire crop. Insecticides can be used but they are expensive and most farmers can’t afford them. Recently, farmers in Lesotho have found a simple way to control the pests.

These black and yellow beetles are over 2 centimetres (3/4 inch) long. The adults are strong fliers and they fly from flower to flower, eating the flowers and the pollen. Until recently, farmers would go out in the evening and pick the beetles off the flowers. But that took a lot of time. And the larvae of the beetles live in the soil so it was difficult to find and kill them.

Then some farmers discovered that the beetles can’t resist the colour blue. When they put out a blue bucket, the beetles were immediately attracted to it.

Now the Lesotho farmers fill their blue buckets with soapy water, and place them around the field. Soon the beetles fly to the buckets, fall into the soapy water, and quickly drown. The inside of the bucket must be blue and must be visible, otherwise the beetles fly to the side of the bucket and don’t fall into the water. So it is better to bury the bucket or cover the outside with something that is another colour.

The trap works just as well if any ordinary pot is used, lined with a blue plastic bag and then filled with soapy water. Or a hole could be dug in the ground and lined with a blue plastic bag.

Project staff on the Local Initiative Support Project at Quting in Lesotho were told about the blue traps and they carried out several trials. The traps worked every time. Now the idea has been taken to Botswana, where blister beetles cause a lot of damage.

Further information available from: Local Initiative Support Project (LISP), Quting, Lesotho.

Adapted from “The Farming World” Transcript No. 1684, British Broadcasting Corporation, London, U.K.


From Kenya: Chickens take the place of drugs


HOST: Ticks cause many fatal diseases of cattle and other livestock. Spraying with acaricides, which are pesticides that kill mites, ticks, and spiders, has been the only way to control ticks, but that is costly. So scientists at the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Kenya have been looking to see if there are biological ways of controlling ticks.

The scientists found that ticks actually spend more time on the ground in the grass than they do on the cattle. So they looked for predators or other antagonistic organisms in the grass. They found that bacteria, parasitic wasps, ants, spiders, birds, lizards, and some rodents ate ticks. But none ate enough to control the ticks well.

However, one animal did prove quite successful! That was the chicken. They found that if chickens are put into large enclosures with cattle, they will pick up ticks that have fallen off the animals. They will even pick ticks off animals that are lying down. The researchers suggest that farmers always put chickens with their cattle when they come in in the evening and keep them there until the cattle are let out in the morning.

Apparently ticks are more likely to drop off animals in the evening or in the morning. So if chickens are with the cows then, over 70% of the ticks will be eaten by the chickens. And there’s no danger that the chickens or their eggs will be infected with any disease. However, cattle should not be dipped in acaricide because the acaricide could affect the chickens.

Further information available from: International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), Nairobi, Kenya.

Adapted from “The Farming World” No. 1687, British Broadcasting Corporation, London



Information sources

Interview with David Arrivillaga L., Supervisor de proyectos forestales, SHARE, Guatemala.

Gami Seva Sevana Farm, Office Junction, Galaha, Sri Lanka.