SATrends Issue 28                                                                                                                  March 2003

1. Trapping the Leaf Thief
The use of chemical pesticides has led to greater production and less hunger for the last three decades. However, it's continuous use created several problems, necessitating the search for alternatives. Among the resulting options for insect pest management through eco-friendly means, the use of a trap crop is a widely accepted and affordable practice.

Like any other living organisms insect pests show preference for their oviposition and feeding. ICRISAT scientists researched insect behavior, and put into practice the concept of a trap crop to suppress pests. The two most important defoliators of groundnut ( Spodoptera litura and Helicoverpa armigera ) prefer sunflower over groundnut for oviposition and larval feeding. Also, the newly hatched larvae of these pests disperse immediately from the egg sites on the groundnut crop, while on the sunflower they stay for a week to ten days on the same leaf. These larvae make skeletons of sunflower leaves ( Right ). At this stage the damage on the trap crop (sunflower) is clearly visible, making it easier for the farmer to collect the leaves under attack for subsequent destruction of the larvae, and without chemical pesticides.

Since groundnut is more vulnerable to defoliators before the flowering stage, it is necessary to protect this crop from defoliators during this phase. While the larvae feeds and develops on the trap crop, the main crop (groundnut) escapes from the critical pest damage. Because the pest stays localized on a leaf, farmers in India and Vietnam found it easier to remove egg masses and caterpillars from the trap crops. Also, sunflower plants can serve as perches for insectivorous birds such as drongos. The sunflower is therefore employed in two ways to manage groundnut pests.

A few suggestions take care to avoid competition for resources between the main crop and a trap crop. An optimum population of 2-3 sunflower plants per square meter of the main crop should suffice. Also, the short-statured early-maturing sunflower variety is preferred as trap crop. Other trap crops such as castor grows slowly under cool conditions, and may not always serve the purpose.

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2. Understanding Livelihood Strategies in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe's drought-prone Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South provinces, over half the population lives below the poverty line. Many are food-insecure, and depend on relief agencies to survive. To help these people climb out of poverty, ICRISAT is conducting a series of studies on livelihood strategies among the rural poor. The study, building on ICRISAT's landmark Village-Level Studies program, focuses on three drought-prone districts in southern Zimbabwe: Tsholotsho, Gwanda and Matobo (Kezi). It seeks to understand livelihood diversification strategies among smallholder farmers and the implications for technology targeting. The key issues include: factors influencing farmer investments in soil fertility management, the determinants and dynamics of poverty, and the impact of HIV/AIDS.

One major issue is change, and how communities adapt to it. Household dynamics are changing because of AIDS and out-migration. Nearly 37% of households in Tsholotsho are female-headed; while 28% of the population lacked the support provided by the nuclear family they were orphans fending for themselves or being given shelter by relatives. Two-thirds of households had at least one member who had migrated in search of employment.

Poverty and out-migration have led to severe shortages of labor and draft power. In Tsholotsho, less than one-third of households owned sufficient draft animals. This in turn meant they found it hard to plant and weed their crops in time, collect and transport manure, or even to take their produce to market. Landholding sizes are changing too. The rich are increasing the size of their holdings while poorer households are being forced to reduce theirs. Pockets of landlessness are appearing.

How will this information help? Such studies help understand livelihood constraints in poor communities, and how people respond. For example, livelihood constraints in Tsholotsho fall under four broad groups.

  • Natural drought, low soil fertility, decreasing landholdings
  • Economic unemployment, poverty, high cost of inputs, lack of credit
  • Labor lack of labor and draft power
  • Markets lack of markets, limiting the incentive to invest in enhancing productivity.

Households are responding to these constraints by diversifying their income sources. In both Kezi and Tsholotsho, farm families earned a large share of their income from off-farm activities: wage labor, remittances from relatives working elsewhere, government pensions, or petty trade. There were important differences in income sources, technology adoption levels, and investment patterns between households with and without cattle, between male- and female-headed households, and even between dejure and defacto female-headed households.

As our understanding of these issues improves, so will the effectiveness of research interventions. That is why economists are working hand in hand with biophysical scientists and technology exchange specialists to develop and promote holistic solutions to the problems of smallholder agricultural development.

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3. A University Without Walls

Can you think of a university without walls, classrooms and even registered students? In fact a university without its own faculty, but one drawn from the resources of many other institutions?

Welcome to the Virtual University for the Semi-Arid Tropics (VUSAT), jointly initiated by ICRISAT and the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF).

This institution will not award degrees or diplomas to students, but will provide critical information to the farmers working in the rainfed areas of the semi-arid tropics. While the broad aim is to provide climate literacy, the immediate concern is to enable the resource-poor farmers to tackle this year's drought, using information and communication technology (ICT) tools along with conventional media such as print, radio and television. All this will be used for mass-based learning and social mobilization

It aims to develop climate literacy and drought preparedness among rural communities, development workers, service providers and policy makers. It will also communicate information on climatic trends like monsoon behavior and methods of drought management for community mobilization and disaster preparation.

The VUSAT builds on the experience from the project at Adakkal village in Andhra Pradesh, India, piloted by ICRISAT. That project empowered the villagers to cope with drought through open distance learning. It shared information and knowledge on crop-livestock management with villagers under a scenario of rainfall and groundwater inadequacy. It also developed off-farm knowledge and skills for viable livelihood opportunities. (Accessing the Internet at Adakkal village)

VUSAT will draw its resources from important Indian bodies like the Indian Council for Agricultural Research, and the India Meteorological Department. It will also draw from the experience of the national and select state governments, and open universities. It is also likely to draw from the expertise available with Commonwealth of Learning, the International Water Management Institute, and other international development agencies. The lessons in India will be used to implement this Virtual University initiative in sub-Saharan Africa.

It will work with the existing drought action programs in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamilnadu. Some of these states are expecting drought to be severe in 2003.

The aim is to launch the VUSAT on 5 June, World Environment Day. A task force will be established for this once the ICRISAT Governing Board endorses the concept.

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4.Green Gold the African Pigeonpea

Pigeonpea is grown on over 400,000 ha in eastern and southern Africa, mainly as a food security crop for smallholder families. Up to 30-40% of the harvest is sold for cash, much of it eventually being exported. With the introduction of improved varieties, this share could grow. What are the prospects for continued expansion? A recent ICRISAT study provided insights into the global pigeonpea trade, and identified constraints and opportunities for African exporters.

The biggest exporters in Africa are Tanzania, Malawi, and Kenya. The key market is India the world largest consumer and importer although high-value niche markets in Europe and North America are also important. Indeed, selected African varieties are highly suitable for consumer niches in the Indian and other markets. But greater competition from Myanmar, and substitution of pigeonpea by yellow pea, have brought about significant changes in the pigeonpea trade. (Right, examining the plumb pigeonpea pods).

Thanks to trade liberalization and effective marketing arrangements, Myanmar has rapidly become the largest supplier of cheap pigeonpea to India. Imports from Myanmar take now place virtually all year round, reducing the competitive edge of African exporters. These traditionally were the only off-season supplier to the Indian market, and therefore enjoyed higher prices than their competitors. With the sharp increase in Myanmar exports, this is less and less the case.

Another factor is the rise in global supply of yellow pea. Due to rising prices in India's domestic chickpea market, Indian imports of yellow pea, a cheaper substitute, have increased spectacularly. But yellow pea can also easily replace pigeonpea, particularly in the price-sensitive segment of the market.

Together, these factors have two major implications for African exports: international prices are falling, which means exporters will have smaller trading margins; and the average scale of operations is increasing, which means only the larger, more efficient suppliers will survive.

Where does that leave Africa? Varietal considerations are just a starting point in the battle to increase competitiveness. In the highly competitive global pigeonpea trade, exporters must offer consistent supplies at competitive prices. Due to the poor road infrastructure and the low yields of traditional varieties, transaction costs in Africa are high. More needs to be done to increase market efficiency. Crucially, future growth in exports will depend on greater efficiency across the entire production and marketing system higher yields, economies of scale in assembly of produce, lower transport costs, and more effective implementation and enforcement of contracts.

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