Did You Know?
By D.P. Agrawal

Question: Did you know that simple traditional techniques could control difficult pests and save a lot of money?

Eighty-year-old Mr Bitchappa's advice was almost easy beyond belief: shake the infamous podborers off pigeonpea plants, and save US$ 310 millions annually , the estimated worldwide pigeonpea crop losses due to the podborer Helicoverpa. Mr Bitchappa's fellow farmers in Hamsanapalli village, in Mahabubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh (AP), had come to him because pigeonpea losses in their village were becoming intolerable -- between 20 and 100 percent of their crops were lost to the deadly podborer.

Over 4 million ha worldwide, mainly in southern Asia and eastern Africa, are under pigeonpea. This grain legume is a major source of inexpensive protein (20%), fodder, and fuel in the tropics and the subtropics. By 1993, 100% of pigeonpea farmers were using chemical control in India. Applying 3-6 sprays of chemicals became common practice. While this worked fine to start with, soon yields began to decline, and the high insecticide investment began to hurt farmers. Enter Mr Bitchappa.

In a farmer-participatory discussion organized in Mr Bitchappa's village by the NGO, Research in Environment, Education and Development Society (REEDS), the village elder recalled how, in the pre-insecticide days, pigeonpea plants were gently shaken, and podborer larvae dropped off the plants. The larvae were collected in a sheet which was dragged along the ground in the interspace between rows of pigeonpea plants. A few hens were allowed to follow this sheet, and the plump worms provided a high-protein feast for the voracious birds!

However, private agencies were skeptical about the applicability, efficiency, and economics of this 'shake-down' technique. So, during the 1998-1999 season, this indigenous technology was evaluated in a 15-ha research watershed at ICRISAT-Patancheru, with support from IFAD and in collaboration with ICAR, ANGRAU, MAU, and NGOs under the coordination of CWS.

The results were spectacular: when plants were 'shaken down' an 85% reduction in insect population was achieved, while the larval population in the adjacent, chemically sprayed plots remained high throughout the cropping period. The 'pigeonpea shake-down' wins hands down on the cost-front too: it costs just Rs 280 (US $ 6) per hectare to have 7 people to shake pigeonpea plants, and collect larvae; and each chemical spray costs Rs 500-700 (US $ 11-16) per hectare.

This technology, initiated at a few locations during 1997, rapidly spread to more than 100 villages involving several thousand farmers in three states of southern India within 2 years. All these farmers continue to use the method. "We are working with farmers, NGOs to include this simple indigenous cultural practice as a critical component of our IPM strategy for pigeonpea," says ICRISAT entomologist G V Ranga Rao.

(Information Courtesy Krishna. Email: krishna_kss@yahoo.com)

Question: Did you know that there is a herbal pesticide against coconut mites?

Phytopalm is a herbal pesticide made from ten herbs:

"Kolingi" (Tephrosia pupurea), "Notchi" (Vitex negundo), Lantana kamara, Vinca rosea, Pongamia pinnata, Anona squamosa, Turmeric (Curcuma longa), Neem (Azadiracita indica), Garlic (Allium sativum) and Cassica auriculata.

It is an eco-friendly herbal pesticide that acts against various pests, particularly the Eriophyid mite that has become a menace for coconut in the southern states of India. It does not only kill and destroy the insects but also acts as a repellent to hard-coated beetles and weevils. In vegetable crops it is found to kill the worms and larvae in cabbage, cauliflower, beans and lady's finger. The bollworm in cotton, the pod borer in red gram and the bud borer in castor have been effectively controlled by spraying the Phytopalm pesticide.

Question: Did you know that tobacco is an effective traditional pesticide, as also a potent tonic for the cattle?

The use of tobacco-made pesticide is well recognised by old farmers in the control of insect pests like diamond back moth (Plutella maculipennis), bihar hairy caterpillar (Diacrisia obliqua), aphids etc., that affect cabbage. The tobacco leaves are boiled in water to form a decoction, which is spray-applied with a worn broom on cabbage. The tobacco leaves after such use are mixed with ghee and black pepper for feeding the cattle in rainy season, which the farmers believe provide energy to the bullock for drawing the plough for transplanting. A concrete paste is made for the purpose.

(Source: Honey Bee. 2001. Vol. 12. No. 3: 12, 17)

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