Natural Pest Regulation for Orphan Crop Legumes in Africa is a new project (BB/R020361/1) funded by the BBSRC GCRF programme, under the SASSA scheme. It involves the Agricultural Ecosystems team - NRI, NM-AIST, LUANAR and Egerton University.
The project will seek to optimise the management of field margins in order to maximise natural pest regulation potential across multiple under-researched crops in Eastern African. This will involve molecular elements to provide identification tools for key beneficial insect species, fieldwork, resistance screening and station trials.
The inception meeting was held on 12th October 2018 in Arusha, Tanzania, with partners organising implementation of the different activities and contributing ideas and contacts. The project will build on underpinning research already carried out as part of the Darwin Initiative project between RBG Kew, NRI, LUANAR and NM-AIST but develop the pest management angle further. As a result, we look forward to continuing to collaborate and draw on expertise of early-career scientists such as Prisila Mkenda who has been studying field margins and natural enemies during her PhD and MSc students such as Juliana Godifray who carried out work on companion planting pesticidal plants.
The project team at the inception meeting visit to NM-AIST.
Prof Stevenson meets with Elisante and Prisila to talk about their work, findings and ideas for future research.
Project staff and students met in October 2018 for the McKnight Foundation Annual Meeting in Arusha, Tanzania. These meetings bring together regional research and allow McKnight-supported projects to exchange ideas, build new networks and report on their progress. Profs Steve Belmain and Phil Stevenson attended from the UK, along with NM-AIST partners.
The team was delighted that project PhD students Elisante Filemon, Prisila Mkenda and Angela Mkindi all won prizes for their outstanding presentations. They have carried out some very exciting research, revealing more about the dynamics and networks of field margins and the potential to engage farmers in sustainable intensification using Farmer Research Networks. More results are still coming through and all three students are working on publications.
The end of March brings this phase of the Darwin-funded element of the project to a close. However, the McKnight activities will continue, the PhD students have around a year of their scholarships remaining, and two new MSc students, Aurea and Juliana, will be starting new projects shortly.
In order to evaluate the success of the project and share lessons for future improvement, a project closing meeting was held 12th-14th March in Arusha. Most project partners attended, including Prof Phil Stevenson, Prof Geoff Gurr, Dr Ernest Mbega, Dr Sarah Arnold, Yolice Tembo, Julie Tumbo, and students Prisila Mkenda, Silvanus Mringi, Ancila Karani, Martin Mkindi, Angela Mkindi and new students Aurea and Juliana. Elisante Philemon was sharing his work at a difference conference in Uganda, so joined via Skype.
Some of the highlights of the meeting were the volume of biodiversity data available to continue to analyse, and the measurable changes in farmers' awareness of beneficial insects and sustainable pest management that has occurred during the project timeline.
Prisila Mkenda speaks to the group about data on farmer behaviour, collected using a novel ICT tool.
With a growing population, there is an ever-increasing need for food production - but it must be sustainable. A huge future challenge is to meet the nutritional needs of humans globally while using resources (including land, water and biodiversity) in a sustainable manner. Increasingly, research indicates that this must be achieved by sustainable, ecological intensification of agriculture rather than by simply increasing synthetic inputs.
The SAFE Hub came together to address this challenge, by forming a consortium of global researchers with expertise in weed, pest and disease control, pollination services, capacity development and policy. Formed by researchers from institutions in the UK, and across the world (Africa, Asia, Latin America), it seeks to use research, training and policy to develop and implement sustainable methods of growing crops key to human health and nutrition.
In October 2017, project partners Steve Belmain, Phil Stevenson and student Angela Mkindi travelled to Pemba, in Mozambique, to present at the McKnight Annual Meeting. It was a chance to share the progress, findings and learning outcomes of the field research so far, and particularly a chance for Angela to tell participants about her innovative methods of engaging farmers as increasingly confident and indepdent researchers in their own right, through farmer research networks. This ambitious approach empowers farmers to make evidence-based choices about their farm management.
Steve gave a talk about sustainable pest and disease management in agro-ecosystems.
The McKnight Foundation has also supported production of some beautiful new information videos, aimed at farmers in Eastern and Southern Africa. They introduce the idea of natural enemies of crop pests, and explain how using pesticidal plants instead of synthetic pesticides can support a healthy agricultural ecosystem that allows the maximum pest control potential of on-farm biodiversity to operate in order to protect farmers' crops...sustainably! The video is available in English (global use), Kiswahili (for farmers in Tanzania and Kenya especially) and Chichewa (for farmers in Malawi). View them here!