How Forest Gardeners are Harnessing Integrated Past Management
By Olivier Allongue, Training Manage, United States
Contributors: Ben Oucho, Technician Supervisor, Kisumu, Kenya and Mgonzo Dunia Ally, Training Coordinator, Tanzania
As the regenerative agriculture space grows, the long-term damage and inefficiencies of synthetic pesticides and conventional pest management practices are shifting to more cost-effective, sustainable, and natural methods. Farmers in the Forest Garden program have ditched the chemicals for organic alternatives and are benefiting in countless ways from a more holistic approach: Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
Instead of reacting to pest infestations once they arise, Forest Garden farmers that practice IPM are much more proactive. Through a variety of integrated preventative and sanitation measures, farmers can monitor and control pest populations. If pest populations rise to destructive levels, farmers are also equipped with organic pest solutions. The combination of these control methods make up a Forest Gardener’s IPM strategy.
Prevention through Planting
Forest Gardeners begin planning for potential pest infestations at the start of the program and apply a variety of preventative techniques on their farm within the first few months of establishment. First, they plant fast-growing tree rows around the perimeter of their land to create a green wall and living fence. As these trees grow, they form an effective barrier that keeps unwanted pests out and away from higher-value crops. They also plant fast-growing trees across their garden to segment it out. That way, the pests that do get through the green wall will meet more resistance ahead, restricting them to only part of the garden and allowing time to limit further damage or infestation.
Companion planting is another way Forest Gardeners prevent pest infestations. Depending on the species selected, the pairing of companion plants can deter pests by natural means. For example, some plants deter pests with strong smells or and others attract predators that eat the pests.
Ben Oucho, a Technician Supervisor in Kenya, shares that farmers in Kisumu, Kenya apply companion planting in their permagardens as an additional repellent if pests get past the green wall. For example, collard greens in Western Kenya were commonly attacked by aphids. To make collard greens less attractive to the aphids, farmers in the program intercrop onions with their greens to serve as a natural repellent due to their scent.
In addition to improving soil fertility, Forest Gardeners also embrace the preventative benefits of crop rotation. In Tanzania, farmers note that a consistent rotation of “fruity, leafy, and root crops” is a useful method for preventing pest populations from colonizing in their beds, significantly reducing the severity of pest infestation.
Farmers in Tanzania also rely on their experience to pick the best moment to plant. Planting too early or too late leaves certain crops more vulnerable to infestation and crop loss. The notorious fall armyworm, for instance, can be particularly devastating to maize if planted too early.
Identification Before Infestation
While all these techniques have been shown to be effective when applied in IPM strategies, pest populations are unavoidable. For that reason, it is extremely important that Forest Gardeners monitor their land with diligence and follow specific sanitation protocols.
To avoid infestation, Forest Gardeners carry out a weekly scouting session, which involves walking around to inspect every part of their site - having washed their hands and shoes first! During scouting, they look for any pests to remove by hand, and kill and properly dispose of any dead, damaged, or diseased plants that may also spread pathogens. Scouting Forest Gardens regularly and consistently allows farmers to identify issues as soon as they arise and to act quickly, to avoid devastating infestations.
Removing a few pests throughout their garden on a scouting walk does not mean the garden is necessarily on the brink of infestation. A farmer can simply continue to frequently monitor the pest presence. If the population reaches a level that may damage or significantly affect the harvest the action threshold has been met and it is time to act.
Only Organic Pest Solutions
If farmers are dealing with a severe infestation, they can apply a variety of natural remedies to rid their Forest Gardens of pests. Tanzania Training Coordinator Mgonzo Dunia Ally reports that farmers have successfully applied a mixture of tobacco, hot pepper, and soap to crops to control aphids and caterpillars. A combination of black nightshade and neem leaves has also reduced moth populations around Forest Gardens. Forest Gardeners in both Tanzania and Kenya are using ash as part of their IPM arsenal as well, but in different ways. In Tanzania, farmers apply wood ash on crops to deter aphids and fungus, whereas farmers in Kenya use it to prevent pests from attacking crops post-harvest in storage.
In Kenya, Ben shared one of the most common organic solutions that farmers apply to combat pest infestations in their gardens. Farmers take the leaves from Tithonian diversifolia (Mexican sunflower), bird’s eye chili, and neem trees, then mix and grind them up. Once ground, the mixture is added to 10 liters of water. A tablespoon of soap is then stirred into the mixture to make the concoction stick to the leaves. Forest Garden farmers apply this solution when dealing with aphids, whiteflies, and the fall armyworm.
Beyond the main benefit of controlling pest populations, farmers have shared additional advantages of integrating IPM practices in their Forest Gardens. Without the need for any synthetic chemical pesticides, their crops produce higher quality and better tasting yields. Ultimately the reduced costs of inputs leads to higher profit from the sale of their crops. Some farmers – like Ajok Lilly in Uganda - have even found their IPM solutions to be so effective that they have made a business out of producing and selling them.
From finding the perfect companion planting pairing to generating additional income, Forest Gardeners have truly harnessed the power of their own IPM strategies. As conventional pest management practices continue causing more damage to our food systems, Forest Gardeners are leading the way in their communities.
Our team is always looking to learn and trial new and effective IPM strategies. If you have any to share with us, we would love to hear from you. Tell us about your IPM experience in an email at email@example.com or create a post in the FGTC Facebook group and start an IPM dialogue.