Does IPM Promise Improved Crop Protection?
The Kenyan flower industry has been criticised in the past for its excessive use of pesticides, abuse of workers and pollution of the environment. Yet even the regional research ‘industry’ is surprisingly out of touch with the Integrated Pest management (IPM) revolution which has happened right under their noses in the last five years in Kenya.
|A Potato Beetle|
There is little interaction between any of the research bodies in East Africa and the floriculture industry and yet they are without doubt leading the world in the implementation of IPM programmes and UK retailers are now inciting a competitive gold rush towards the new ‘holy grail – residue-free flowers! Un-heard of, un-thought of only five years ago! How did this happen?
This has all come about as a result of the huge success in the biological control of spider mite in roses, which can account from 50 to 70% of all pesticides applied to flower crops. There is more than one way to design and implement an IPM programme which will have varying impact on the amount of pesticide used. Some IPM programmes only use biological controls in the base of the rose plant but still spray pesticides for mites in the top of the plant. However, the Real IPM programme is unique in that it uses extremely high innundative applications of the predatory mite, Phytoseiulus – introducing more than 1 million predators per hectare in one week.
This is only economically possible as a result of having commercial mass production of biological control agents in Kenya. If the same, effective, innundative programme was used with imported Phytoseiulus from Europe which costs 700 Ksh per thousand Phytoseiulus – it would cost at least a staggering 700, 000 Ksh per hectare (equivalent the annual cost of a normal spray programme). If the innundative Real IPM Phytoseiulus programme is applied within a compatible spray programme by well-trained growers, this has resulted in the elimination of mites for the first time in the crop, within 6-8 weeks of the introduction of predators. Eventually, the Phytoseiulus also dies out, as there is no prey (spider mites) left, leaving completely clean leaves.
As long as the new clean crop is kept clean by preventing the movement of staff from ‘dirty’ houses, with millions of mites, into the clean house – then the clean IPM crop will need very few, if any, further introductions of Phytoseiulus. This means there is no annual recurrent huge cost for more high Phytoseiulus introduction rates by the rose grower to prevent mite damage.
Before the Real IPM programme, the rose farm may have spent 50 – 70 Ksh per m sq per year just to suppress mites – EVERY year! (about $10,000 per hectare per year). Now they spend about 35 Ksh per m sq to ‘clean up’ and about 12 Ksh per m sq per year on Phytoseiulus to keep it clean – without any additional costs for mite pesticides. The unexpected financial bonus is that the crops grow much better without pesticides, stem length increases by 10 – 15 cm, bud size increases and yields can increase by up to twenty percent.
This type of IPM programme, saves money and increases yield and quality. No wonder Kenyan flower growers are now demanding more biological solutions for other pests and diseases. The ‘greening’ of the East African floriculture will only accelerate from now on with the increasing capacity of the local biological control industry. The flower industry in Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia are now looking to emulate the success of the Kenyan flower industry.
Can this success story, in a high value crop, which cannot stand any cosmetic damage from ineffective biological control, be rolled out into biological control of maize stalk borer (with a parasitoid of caterpillar eggs called Trichogramma and baculoviruses which kill young caterpillars), biocontrols of the parasitic weed Striga (with a bio-herbicide made from a fungus called Fusarium oxysporum ) and biocontrols of aflatoxins in maize (with an a non-pathogenic Aspergillus fungus)?
The answer is ‘Yes’ – if private/public partnerships are formed. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is developing strong links with the Real IPM Company as a channel for commercialisation of the outputs of their research programme which include nematode control in bananas as well as the above areas of interest. Research stations need to team up with commerce and stop viewing them as competitors for funding. Donors should insist on commercial approval for IPM research programmes with well thought out commercial pathways for outputs of research – at the outset of a research programme. Otherwise they run the risk of just funding interesting reports, scientific papers and potential products which gather dust on a shelf somewhere.
There are innovative methods for making biological control cost effective in outdoor crops , including those of small-holders. For example, spider mite is a pest on many crops including tomatoes and beans. The spider mites move onto the crops from weeds on the farm or from older crops or neighbours crops. The highest populations of mites develop at the end of the crop, later when the crop is removed, they move onto the weeds – and then back onto newly planted crops.
If even small numbers of predators are applied towards the end of the crop, during the harvest period (when pesticides should not be applied) – then the predators can build up to very high levels (even millions) before the crop is removed. The small-scale farmer may not be able to afford to buy millions of good bugs – but he has used an opportunity in his own crop to breed millions at less investment cost. They then move onto weeds and other crops and continue to control mites there – reducing the numbers which re-invade new crops.
Trichogramma is a parasitic wasp which lays its eggs in the eggs of caterpillars. It is the most widely used biological control agent in the world and is so cheap to produce, it can be thrown out of aeroplanes for the control of maize stalk borer in China, southern Europe, the United states – but is not used in Africa where maize is a staple food? Why? Donors have funded lengthy studies on the identification and taxonomy of local Trichogramma species which is now the basis of a scientific publication by a research station. But there is no commercial producer of Trichogramma which would assist in the control of maize stalk borer and support poverty alleviation efforts – because this was not an objective of the research (why not?).
Real IPM has set up a small scale production unit for Ephestia eggs (a moth) – to form the basis of a Trichogramma production unit, but development is stalled due to lack of funding. Many of the donor-funded projects on poverty alleviation are only open to NGOs to apply for financial support. There are no NGOs with expertise in either IPM or mass production of biological control agents.
The investment costs for mass production of biological controls is high, if yields and quality are to be assured. The start up costs for new production lines can be prohibitively expensive for SMEs in the biological control industry. This delays the development and registration of new biological controls for industry.
By Louise Labuschagne, Joint Managing Director – The Real IPM Company (Kenya) Ltd.
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