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!
Dr Sarah Arnold attended the annual Ento conference 12th-14th September. This year it was hosted by Newcastle University, and the themes included networks and ecosystem services - an ideal fit with the project!
She presented a snapshot of early results from the project, demonstrating how ecological networks can be applied to understand crop pollination and identify key plants in field margins that may support better pollination.
The Second International Conference on Pesticidal Plants was held in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe in February 2017.
Various snapshots of work related to and arising from the Darwin and McKnight support pesticidal plants/ecosystems services projects were presented by speakers from the UK and Eastern/Southern Africa. The whole conference is currently available on YouTube, but links below lead directly to the talks given by project staff and students.
Prof Steve Belmain and Dr Sarah Arnold visited NM-AIST staff and students 12th-15th March 2017 in order to hold meetings about the progress of various aspects of the project and agree the direction of future work.
It was an excellent chance for the MSc and PhD students to present their work so far and consider workplans in a lively atmosphere.
We also got to visit the field and see the new station trial setups on the NM-AIST on-campus farm/field station. The station trials will allow experimental testing of interventions under controlled conditions.
PhD student Elisante presents preliminary pollinator abundance results.
Angela shows pesticidal plants drying for field trials.
MSc student Silvanus explains his field trial setup, to test how patches of pesticidal plants within fields can affect ecosystems services.
An experimental plot of Tephrosia vogelii, part of Silvanus Mringi's station trials on ecosystems services from pesticidal plant patches.
NM-AIST students and Sarah Arnold.
Following on from last week's McKnight Foundation meeting held in Lilongwe, Malawi, and attended by several project partners, NRI and Kew staff have spent some time with LUANAR staff in and around Lilongwe, preparing for the next phase of field sureys and trials connected to the Darwin Initiative project.
Yolice Tembo accompanied Phil Stevenson, Iain Darbyshire and Sarah Arnold into the field to view farms, meet a few farmers, observe the ecosystems and importantly, to train graduate research assistants in the fundamental sampling and monitoring techniques needed to characterise the importance of semi-natural and unmanaged areas around farmland for insect ecosystems services.
In particular, the field assistants Dalitso and Kelita received training in walked transects, plant diversity surveys and pan trapping techniques.
At this time of year, this part of Malawi is hot, dry and windy and the farmers are between cropping cycles, having harvested the last season's crops but still waiting for the rain before planting the new season's crop. Therefore, it is not the most biologically diverse time of year from the point of view of invertebrates or plants. Nonetheless, some beneficial invertebrates were observed during the day's work, including spiders, lady beetles and a praying mantis.
We hope that the work in Malawi will provide us with valuable information about the importance of field margins and other non-cultivated areas in supporting sustainable yields, and also enable us to understand how generalisable certain recommendations about planting and margin management may be between countries and regions.