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Effectiveness of agro-ecological intensification practices in managing pests in smallholder banana systems in east and central Africa

Karamura, E.B., Jogo, W., Rietveld, A., Ochola, D., Staver, C., Tinzaara, W., Karamura, D.A., Kubiriba, J., Weise, S.
Acta horticulturae 2013 no.986 pp. 119-126
Curculionidae, Fusarium, Nematoda, Xanthomonas, agroecological zones, bananas, capital, crop production, crops, disease diagnosis, farmers, farming systems, households, interviews, irrigation, labor, leaves, mineral fertilizers, mulches, nutrient offtake, nutrients, pesticides, pests, production technology, sales, soil fertility, solar radiation
In eastern Africa, banana - a key staple for 20 million people - suffers increasingly from pests and diseases. Population pressure has reduced farmers' ability to access mulch and manure and to rotate crops and fallow fields. This, coupled with the nutrient offtake via increased banana sales, has resulted in declining soil fertility. Few farmers use pesticides and mineral fertilizers due to their high cost and limited availability. Agro-ecological intensification (AEI) harnesses ecological processes to increase productivity of local resources, such as labor, off-farm nutrients and sunlight, to increase production and reduce losses to stresses, while preserving the environment. For effective deployment of AEI, it needs to be adapted for different production systems and conditions of market and input access. Selected on the basis of agro-ecology, production systems and farming objectives homologue sites were evaluated for the incidence of common pests and diseases. Interviews with 60 households in three agro-ecological zones and two banana production systems documented knowledge for applying AEI, including identification of diseases. They also inventoried available resources, including capital, labor and land, as well as irrigation, manure and mulch. Elements of AEI were in use across sites and these varied across agro-ecologies and production systems. Farmers were limited by the lack of knowledge on pest and disease diagnosis, access to inputs (e.g., manure) and resources, including labor and land, to effectively apply AEI practices. Symptoms of Xanthomonas wilt and weevils were readily recognized by farmers, while symptoms of other diseases (Fusarium, black leaf streak and nematodes) were in most cases either not known or confused. The study concludes that improved farmer knowledge and capacity for ecological reasoning will make more effective the use of current on-farm resources for disease/pest and nutrient cycle management.