Moses Ruendo is a tall Kenyan who has been farming for most of his life in Chuka County, Kenya – located in the rural Kenyan highlands. When the government sponsored an irrigation project, he hoped to stabilize production and get neighboring growers together to market their vegetable crops. But it was not so easy.
His first attempts did not consider the pressure from insect pests, soil-borne and foliar diseases, and soils infested with nematodes. He fought these pests with synthetic pesticides – sometimes with up to 12 applications per season. And if the pests persisted, he applied more pesticides until his already thin profit margins were lost. When he saw a problem on his tomatoes, he sprayed all the crops - kale, spinach, beans - because he thought the insect pest would jump from tomatoes to other crops. He simply purchased a pesticide and sprayed it whether the crop needed it or not.
But now, Ruendo grows tomatoes successfully with almost no synthetic pesticides. This is possible because of training he received through the East Africa Vegetable Project, an effort that is a part of the larger Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab (IPM-IL).
The project is sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and directed by scientists at the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and The Ohio State University, through the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science.
Kenyan farmers like Ruendo and other farmer groups have been working with Dr. Jesca Mbaka and colleagues at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), who are seeking to promote broader adoption of pest management methods that reduce the use of synthetic pesticides through cultural practices, in turn reducing the incidence and impact of pests in vegetable crop production.
As a result of working with researchers from Ohio State and KALRO, Ruendo has adopted several IPM technologies. Instead of starting seedlings in crowded open beds with disease- and nematode-infested soil, he built a raised bed nursery with netting to exclude insect pests and virus vectors. He solarizes the soil to kill pathogens, weed seeds, and nematodes. To defend his crop from bacterial wilt, he uses a resistant variety (‘Kilele’). For nematodes, he uses a botanical neem-based pesticide product.
With the IPM approaches he has learned from Ohio State and KALRO-led workshops, Ruendo has now developed a production system to grow and market several vegetable crops throughout the year. He has a list of non-pesticide alternatives that he can turn to when pest problems appear. And he doesn’t just spray by the calendar as he used to; he now scouts his field for pests such as diamondback moth in kale, and applies a botanical pesticide produced based on a threshold number of pests.
John Cardina, Ohio State University Professor in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science and principle investigator for the project, says that the changes Ruendo is making represent improvements many farmers realize after receiving IPM training.
“IPM allows farmers to use diverse approaches to prevent control pest insects, diseases, weeds, and nematodes in their production systems,” explains Dr. Cardina. “IPM options have proven to be more cost-effective than the conventional overuse and misuse of synthetic pesticides, resulting in larger profits for the farmer, along with better quality vegetables for local and international markets.”
After participating in the IPM project, Ruendo became a model farmer in his village, and he is conducting some of his own experimentation with biological products like Trichoderma mixed into the manure that he places in holes before transplanting tomatoes. He will eventually stake and prune the tomato plants, but hopes he will not have to apply pesticides. Next to the tomato field, his spinach and kale have been harvested once and no pesticides have been applied.
“With the money I am saving from not purchasing pesticides,” he says with a smile, “I have bought livestock. Oh, yes, and new clothes for my wife.”
Ruendo is pleased with the condition of his crops grown using IPM methods learned through the East African IPM Innovation Lab project and hopes that his fellow farmers begin to incorporate these practices into their own vegetable production systems.