In a bid to tackle the destructive effects of the parasitic weed striga and stem borers in small holder maize and sorghum fields in the Wollo region of Ethiopia, the Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD) has been promoting Push-Pull technology (PPT). PPT, developed by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, is a novel ecological pest management strategy that uses intercropped push plants (specifically desmodium, a forage legume) to repel or “push” stalk borer and suppress striga and attract or “pull” forage grasses that attract/trap stalk borers. After ISD observed farmers modifying the standard package by reducing the number of forage grass rows, ISD, Wollo, and Woldia Universities formed a joint research project in 2014, with McKnight Foundation support, to test if the farmers' modifications still provided stalk borer control. Unfortunately, the rains failed and the trial results were inconclusive.
During the inception phase, the project developed good working relationships amongst its members. However, the approach lacked a mechanism by which farmers could be able to systematically exchange ideas and results among themselves, as well as with the researchers and other stakeholders. The group therefore proposes a new phase of work whereby a groups of PPT-practicing farmers and interested non PPT-practicing neighbors form a Farmer Research Network (FRN) to enable interaction and mutual learning. Existing clusters of PPT farmers and their local farmer training centers would provide the “nodes” of Farmer Research Groups (FRGs) that would then be linked in a wider network with mechanisms developed for regular dialogue and exchange visits. Ensuring women’s involvement will be an important aspect of the project, considering their key roles in crop management, such as choice of crop variety and seed saving as well as in feeding domestic livestock.
Different segments of the society—women, men, children, youth, and elders—have various roles, ownership, and decision-making power, including in farming. Accordingly, their evaluation and perception of any technology varies, which in turn influences the adoption of the technology. In this applied research project, the project team hypothesizes that including all relevant segments of the society in the participatory evaluation of PPT will facilitate and accelerate technology dissemination and knowledge sharing among project partners. Full participation of both women and men will enhance the evaluation, development, and adoption of PPT and will ensure that farmers develop confidence and ownership of adapting technologies. This in turn is likely to stimulate further innovation and sustained engagement of additional farmers as well as better support from other stakeholders. For example, farmers in the Axum area observed that maintaining Desmodium between rows of tomato after the maize harvest appeared to suppress the parasitic weed Orobanche. Such observations can be used to develop research protocols with farmers that both produce valid data and provide additional value for the Desmodium component in PPT. With farmers deeply involved in naming and framing the research problems, immediate practical application of the results becomes more likely.
This project focuses on CCRP's principle of full participation by bringing together researchers and farmers to learn from and understand each other for effective implementation of push-pull and other useful technologies.