Vegetable IPM: Module 5

Module 5: Promoting Vegetable IPM Among Farmers

Lesson 5.1: The Value of Farmer Experimentation

Farmers often test IPM methods to see if they will be useful on their farms. This is called farmer experimentation and is an essential element of any IPM system. No two regions are exactly alike. Soil or climate may be different.  Pest and disease pressures may be different. Results from one place could be different. Farmers should try out new things for themselves.  Successful ideas spread rapidly and never more so than when the ideas are developed by farmers themselves.

There is probably not better way to explain the value of farmer experimentation than through actual examples.  Below we present 2.

Example 1: Varietal Evaluation of Cabbage resistance to Black Rot

One example of successful farmer experimentation is from a woman who grew cabbages which were getting infected with black rot.  The hybrid cabbage Gloria, supplied by the seed merchant was doing very well for farmers growing cabbages a few miles away. However, for some reason, when she used Gloria they were heavily affected by the disease. This farmer decided to make a comparison of several varieties and hybrid cabbages. She planted them on adjacent plots so that the comparison could be made easily. One of the hybrids called Rinda was much less infected by black rot.  The same happened the following season when she compared both types, so she was convinced that it resisted the disease better than other cabbages. She grew that variety more than any other and her success was not unnoticed. Even despite the fact that Rinda cabbage seed was more expensive, almost all farmers nearby now grow Rinda. Their former black rot disease problems have largely disappeared.

Example 2: Farmer selected resistant variety

Another example of successful farmer experimentation was a farmer who noticed that kale plants grown from seed purchased in town tended to flower and seed early in the season. The kale crop is harvested through the season by removing leaves and bunching them for market, so if the plants bolted (set flowers instead of producing the foliage which is harvested for sale) then the profitable season of the crop was shortened.  Some of the plants from the commercial seed that he was buying grew weakly, even when they did not start to flower. He was not happy with things, so started to save seed from his own crop at the end of the season.

His practice was to remove any kale plants which were weak or starting to flower. He fed these rejected plants to his animals. At the end of the season, only the strong plants were allowed to set seed. He collected this seed and saved it for the following season. Through the second season and subsequent seasons he continued his policy of removing early flowering plants and weak plants.  After several seasons his crop was excellent and became well known. Others adopted the same ways.  Their yields improved too. Soon people from other areas of the country started asking if they could buy the improved seed and they were able to sell seed in addition to the excellent harvest from the crops.

Farmer experimentation and selection had developed varieties which not only had a long and productive season, but had been selected for health and vigour. A new industry was created as a result of a sensible breeding programme based on the ideas of an intelligent farmer. In this example above, it is probable that the selected seeds contained genetic traits such as resistance or tolerance of some diseases.

Lesson 5.2: Encouraging Farmers to Experiment

Unfortunately, farmers often don’t have the knowledge or confidence to carry out effective experimentation.  We should encourage and train them to do experiments.  In this there are some common mistakes which should be avoided.

A. Comparing the old with the new

It is important to make a comparison of the old with the new.  For example, a farmer is not happy with his crop of melons. He wants to try a new variety to see if it is better. He grows the new melon and it gives a good crop. He is very happy. But how does he know if the improvement is due to the new type?  It is possible that the season was better.  He may have had more water for irrigation, or the level of pests may have been low during the season.  Any or all of these could explain the improvement. He should have grown some of his old type alongside the new type. Only then can he make a good guess that one is better than the other.

B. Change one thing at a time

In the example above, if the farmer simultaneously changed his melon variety and changed his fertiliser, and perhaps had a new pump for irrigation, he would not know which was responsible for any improved yield. Only one thing should be changed in experiments to find better ways of growing crops and improving pest management.

Lesson 5.3: Extension Methods

Of course encouraging farmers to experiment is not the only way to get farmers to adopt your recommendations.  Government, non-government and private extension efforts have effectively developed and used a range of other techniques over the years.  Extension is essentially the means by which new knowledge and ideas are introduced into rural areas in order to bring about change and improve the lives of farmers and their families. Extension is a process which occurs over a period of time and, through educational activities, works with rural people, supports them and prepares them to confront their problems more successfully.

A major challenge for agricultural professionals working in IPM is to make sure that farmers are given access to the information and knowledge they have and can use this to improve their lives.  It is not enough for you to have technical knowledge.  You must also know how to communicate this knowledge and how to use it to the benefit of the farm family. This is particularly important for a knowledge-based practice like IPM where knowledge is the most important “input”.

Before going on to designing your own extension or change programme you might want to browse some of the very good online resources in this area.  Links to a few excellent resource sites can be found below.