Agroecology – benefiting farmers around the world

Farmers is Malawi are realising the benefits of acroecology © CIMMYT ( CC BY-NC-SA licence)
Farmers in Malawi are realising the benefits of acroecology © CIMMYT (CC BY-NC-SA licence)

This week, the UK Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, David Heath, has announced his support for the use of agroecological farming methods which are seen as the foundation of sustainable agriculture. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology (IAASTD) define agroecology as “the science and practice of applying ecological concepts and principles to the study, design and management of sustainable agroecosystems”. In practice, this means simulating natural ecosystems and using low inputs to increase productivity.

In 2011 the UN reported that by using agroecological methods, projects carried out in 20 different African countries were able to double crop yields in 3-10 years. The projects also recorded a reduction in the use of pesticides, leading to savings for the farmers. The agroecological approach has multiple benefits, beyond these economic gains. It also takes into account social and environmental issues, including soil fertility, water availability and climate change.  Continue reading

Bean and Gone – Controlling the Coffee Berry Borer Using Integrated Pest Management

Coffee is one of our most popular drinks, but coffee production worldwide is threatened by the Coffee Berry Borer, a tiny beetle which affects the yield and quality of coffee beans © Frank Gruber, via Flickr (License CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Coffee Berry Borer, Hypothenemus hampei, is a tiny beetle which is widely considered to be the most damaging pest of coffee plantations in the world. Originating in Africa, it is now found in almost all coffee growing areas in the world as an invasive species, with nearly 160 records from different areas worldwide on the Plantwise Distribution Map. Coffee is an extremely important commodity in many countries, including Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Vietnam, India and Indonesia. CABI is currently running a project led by Soetikno S. Sastroutomo in partnership with the Indonesian Coffee and Cacao Research Institute (ICCRI) and Papua New Guinea Coffee Industry Corporation Ltd (CIC) to address problems with the Coffee Berry Borer in Indonesia, where over 920,000 ha of coffee are infested, 95% of which are farmed by small holder farmers. Papua New Guinea is one of the last two remaining coffee nations without the pest, so the project also aims to prevent the establishment of the pest in Papua New Guinea and save the country’s extensive coffee growing areas. The CABI project is applying knowledge from Coffee Berry Borer management in African and Latin American countries to create a country-specific management program with an emphasis on Integrated Pest Management techniques and training for farmers in order to combat the Coffee Berry Borer. A recent paper published this year highlights the potential for Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs in the management of Coffee Berry Borer, using a case study from a large coffee plantation in Colombia. Farm managers and harvest workers received training workshops on pest management strategies based on prior research and the recommendations of the National Coffee Research Center in Columbia in order to implement effective IPM strategies. Continue reading

Need to control rodents on your crops? Use birds of prey!

The great horned owl is one bird of prey that can be used to control rodents on farmland © Abigail Rumsey

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel is encouraging farmers to use barn owls (Tyto alba) to control rodent pests on their crops. They aim to attract barn owls by constructing nest boxes; so far 2,000 have been distributed to farmers. As barn owls only hunt at night, day-hunting kestrels are also being provided for to ensure a more effective rodent-targetting system. Although it has taken a while to persuade farmers in neighbouring Jordan to take up the use of barn owls in their fields, success has also been had controlling rodent populations there.

It isn’t just farmers from the Middle East that have found birds of prey to be beneficial when dealing with rodent pests. All around the world, farmers have found that this natural solution can be cheaper and less harmful to the environment than using poisons or traps. Here are some case studies of using birds of prey in agriculture: Continue reading

Deck the halls with boughs of…Vascular-Streak Dieback?

As the supermarkets fill their shelves with an abundance of chocolate in anticipation of the festive season, the supply appears plentiful. For Indonesian cocoa farmers, however, the story is a very different one. 10% of global cocoa output comes from Indonesia, but this year the Indonesian cocoa industry has suffered from outbreaks of Vascular-Streak Dieback (VSD) disease (Oncobasidium theobromae). This has affected crop productivity, and cocoa output is expected to dive to just 400,000 tonnes this year.

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