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December 1998, Volume 19 No. 4

Training News

In this section we welcome all your experiences in working directly with the end-users of arthropod and microbial biocontrol agents or in educational activities on natural enemies aimed at students, farmers, extension staff or policymakers.

Putting a ZIP into Training

The problems created by heavy reliance on chemicals for pest control in cotton led to the crop being an early target for IPM. However, uptake in many cases has been poor, and reliance on pesticides has continued, associated with health problems for farmers and pest resurgence. There are a number of documented cases of the success of farmer participatory methods in persuading farmers to use IPM approaches (e.g. in Pakistan: see BNI 19(2), 41N-42N), and often these involve training `trainers' (extension officers and non-governmental organization field staff ) who then share their acquired agroecological knowledge with farmers through Farmer Field Schools (FFSs). Now, a local non-governmental organization in Zimbabwe is developing a training scheme, which concentrates on giving training directly to farmers, and on encouraging them to facilitate learning amongst other farmers.

The Zimbabwe Institute of Permaculture's ZIP Research provides training and research in natural pest management for the communal farming sector in Zimbabwe. In the Zambesi valley they are assisting farmers who want to grow cotton organically. This is a resettlement area where low rainfall and extremely high temperatures are major constraints to production. With the current economic crisis in the country, smallholders are finding it increasingly difficult to afford agrochemical inputs and are looking for alternative farming practices that will reduce their input costs. ZIP Research's training is based on the FFS approach, with modifications to meet local circumstances and needs. Most significantly, for their organic cotton project, they are concentrating on training farmers to teach other farmers. Trainees as Farmer Field Workers (FFWs) for the project are selected by their community with guidance from ZIP Research, and undergo a four-week training course in natural pest management (NPM) and organic farming at ZIP Research's Eco-lab at Mt Hampden near Harare. The FFWs each undertake to pass on skills and knowledge, learnt through a series of experiments and discussions, to ten fellow-farmers on their return. FFWs are selected by their communities because of their leadership skills. Over forty FFWs have graduated since 1997, and the project therefore reaches some 400 farmers in the Zambezi Valley.

This is a 'development through trade' project which, according to Sam Page, directly challenges the 'donor dependency' that has been created amongst the rural population by donor-led development which has been imposed in the area.

Training in natural pest management within organic agriculture reduces production costs because it eliminates the use of pesticides. It also enables farmers to receive an organic premium when they sell their produce to Cargill. Part of this premium will be used to provide remuneration to FFWs who perform well. The training provided by ZIP Research covers the requirements for the crops to be certified as organic, as the FFWs are also responsible for the internal control system. The organic cotton the farmers produce is now certified by the Dutch company Ecocert and bought at around a 20% premium by Cargill for separate ginning. The Harare office of AgroEco is responsible for the marketing of the organic lint. The organic lint from last season is currently being made into T-shirts, which will be sold in the UK through the `Friends of the Earth' catalogue.

The training course focuses on practical skills and experimentation by the trainees in the laboratory and field, the toxicology of pesticides, understanding natural enemies, plant diseases and how they spread, pest and predator survey techniques, germination and plant growth processes, and soil organic matter determination; as well as concepts and discussion on topics such as socioeconomic aspects of organic cotton production and marketing including a visit to the local ginnery. As an example of the field studies carried out, the organic farmers have observed an effective black ant predator that can be encouraged into cotton by intercropping with cowpea. The ant benefits from the shade and feeds on the nectaries in the cowpea, and will pull out bollworms from the bolls of the cotton plant. Farmers use intercropping with sorghum and okra to trap bollworms, and plant live fences and intercrop with yellow flowering plants, such as sunnhemp and mustard, to attract natural enemies. The use of herbal remedies such as Tephrosia vogelii are recommended only as a last resort.

During their training, FFWs develop their own tailor-made curriculum to run back in their community including socioeconomic aspects such as local surveys of the economics of pesticide use amongst farmers who have not yet converted to organic agriculture, and agroecological studies on natural enemies and intercropping. They are also assisted by ZIP Research to conduct small-scale experiments with their farmer colleagues. Among the topics for current research farmer field workers have prioritized for testing are the effects of intercropping on pests and natural enemies, together with the search for viruses to control bollworms. Currently, the organic marketing regulations permit the use of chemically treated seed for the first two or three years only and farmers must show that they are exploring non-chemical alternatives. One possible alternative is seed treatment with ash. ZIP Research and the farmers are also studying cotton yield differences between organic and conventional cotton. Alternaria infection in different cotton cultivars will be investigated once these can be obtained: access to cotton seed in Zimbabwe is controlled by chemical companies. Another aim is to assess local market opportunities for organic groundnuts, which would bring more women into the project.

ZIP Research aims to expand its training programme in 1999, using private sector funding facilitated by DANIDA (Danish Development Agency) to support another development through trade project. Once a market is secured, they will run training courses in organic vegetable production. These will cover NPM techniques for a range of pests that have been identified, including rootknot nematodes and red spider mite, and address the problem of an acute shortage of on-farm biomass to improve soil fertility. It is intended that these farmers will supply a local food processor with organic fruit and vegetables that can be exported to Denmark at a premium.

Sources: Pesticides Trust (1998) Success with cotton IPM. A briefing for the IPM in Developing Countries Project funded by the European Commission Environment in Developing Countries budget (DGVIII). London, UK; The Pesticides Trust. Pest Management Notes No. 10, p. 3.
Sam Page & Shepherd Musiyandaka, pers. comm., 1998.

Contact: Dr Sam L. J. Page, Natural Pest Management, ZIP Research, P. O. Box C Y 301, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe
Fax: +263 4 726911

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