Thursday, December 22, 2011

Climate Smart Management of Crop Pests

Crop protection plays a very important role in agriculture. Like human beings, plants are also affected by pests. A ‘pest’ is any organism that is responsible for significant losses both in production and profits in agriculture and the term may include insects, micro-organisms, weeds, rodents, etc. The incidence of the pest is an indication of poor health of the plant and soil. A healthy soil always produces a healthy plant. The root cause of the incidence of pests is the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers that makes the plant soft and succulent which attracts the pests. In the conventional synthetic chemical based farming system, toxic pesticides are used to manage the pests. These toxic chemicals have a great impact on the soil, water, food, health and the environment.

 In Climate smart agriculture based on organic farming approaches, the synthetic toxic pesticides are not used instead, natural methods which are non-polluting are employed to manage the pests. A variety of plants and micro-organisms have an ability to manage pests efficiently. In addition, cultural and mechanical methods are also utilized. All insects are not pests. Less than one percent of insects are pests, while a large majority of insects are beneficial. There are many natural enemies of pests like, insects, spiders, birds and other organisms which prey and predate on them. These natural enemies which are very important get killed by the toxic synthetic pesticides resulting in the turning a pest into pandemic. In organic farming it is very important to understand the intricate prey-predator relationship of the food web.

The common characteristics of different approaches in crop protection in organic agriculture are,
1.    Multi-portaged approach to manage the pest/disease.
2.    Focus on improving soil health thereby increasing its resistance capacity of plants.
3.     Utilization of the biodiversity of the region and traditional knowledge.

There are different approaches of managing pests like cultural and mechanical methods, use of botanicals and biological pest management.

Let me discuss on how plants can be used in the management of pests at the field level.
Euphorbia sp.
The first question arises is that how to identify these plants which are effective on pests. Quick solution comes from the traditional knowledge. The farming communities of any region have a vast knowledge on a variety of plants that are used in traditional medicine. The rule of thumb is, any plant that has strong odour preferably a wild plant has most of the properties to manage pests.
Infact most of the obnoxious weeds can be used to manage pests in farming. For example, Parthenuim (Parthenium hysterophorus) a major weed in agriculture is an excellent plant for pest management. Unfortunately research on managing Parthenium has failed as the common approach is to halt the growth and spread of this plant which the scientific fraternity has failed miserable amidst inventing toxic weedicides.

As I mentioned in my earlier blog that ‘weeds’ are the plants whose uses are not known to human beings. There is no plant on earth which is useless. In Climate smart Agriculture, we make smart choices. Instead of wasting our efforts in controlling the weeds, we try to use the weeds in a variety of preparations for managing pests. Also weeds can be a good natural resource for composting.

Tagetes sp
Equesetium sp.

How to use these weeds or plants for managing pests?              

 These weeds or plants needs to be fermented in an appropriate way to transform into liquid formulations for managing pests.  In a container or barrel, the weeds are well chopped fermented with cattle urine and cattle dung. Care should be taken that the container should be stirred regularly to facilitate active fermentation. The preparation is ready in 30-45 days and can be used on crops. Generally, I recommend a dilution of one part of the concentrated fermented solution with 10 parts of water and sprayed on crops to manage a variety of pests. Even these sprays can be used as a prophylactic sprays. These preparations needs to be tailor-made to suit different crops and climatic regions.

Melia fruits

Separating the Melia fruits
Crushed Melia fruits ready for fermentation

Likewise a variety of plants which are weeds can be efficiently used in agriculture which will have twin benefits; managing weeds and pests. 

Climate smart Agriculture is all about "common sense". Wish and pray, may common sense prevail in the minds of those who are into research and promotion of toxic pesticides. 

........Wish you all a Climate Smart and a Wonderful New Year 2012......

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