Pest Management Strategies in Traditional Agriculture: An African Perspective

Annual Review of Entomology

Vol. 45:631-659 (Volume publication date January 2000)


AbstractAfrican agriculture is largely traditional—characterized by a large number of smallholdings of no more than one ha per household. Crop production takes place under extremely variable agro-ecological conditions, with annual rainfall ranging from 250 to 750 mm in the Sahel in the northwest and in the semi-arid east and south, to 1500 to 4000 mm in the forest zones in the central west. Farmers often select well-adapted, stable crop varieties, and cropping systems are such that two or more crops are grown in the same field at the same time. These diverse traditional systems enhance natural enemy abundance and generally keep pest numbers at low levels. Pest management practice in traditional agriculture is a built-in process in the overall crop production system rather than a separate well-defined activity. Increased population pressure and the resulting demand for increased crop production in Africa have necessitated agricultural expansion with the concomitant decline in the overall biodiversity. Increases in plant material movement in turn facilitated the accidental introduction of foreign pests. At present about two dozen arthropod pests, both introduced and native, are recognized as one of the major constraints to agricultural production and productivity in Africa. Although yield losses of 0% to 100% have been observed on-station, the economic significance of the majority of pests under farmers’ production conditions is not adequately understood. Economic and social constraints have kept pesticide use in Africa the lowest among all the world regions. The bulk of pesticides are applied mostly against pests of commercial crops such as cotton, vegetables, coffee, and cocoa, and to some extent for combating outbreaks of migratory pests such as the locusts. The majority of African farmers still rely on indigenous pest management approaches to manage pest problems, although many government extension programs encourage the use of pesticides. The current pest management research activities carried out by national or international agricultural research programs in Africa focus on classical biological control and host plant resistance breeding. With the exception of classical biological control of the cassava mealybug, research results have not been widely adopted. This could be due to African farmers facing heterogeneous conditions, not needing fixed prescriptions or one ideal variety but a number of options and genotypes to choose from. Indigenous pest management knowledge is site-specific and should be the basis for developing integrated pest management (IPM) techniques. Farmers often lack the biological and ecological information necessary to develop better pest management through experimentation. Formal research should be instrumental in providing the input necessary to facilitate participatory technology development such as that done by Farmer Field Schools, an approach now emerging in different parts of Africa.