African Farmers Need More Time to Manage Crops: Herbicides Provide the Solution

Woman in labor

African Farmer Weeding

African farmers are constrained in the amount of time that they have available to improve their farming operations due to the inordinate amount of time required to hand weed their fields. About 50% of their time is taken up with hand weeding. Other opportunities ( such as planting a cash crop) are neglected. The use of herbicides to kill weeds in African crop fields would significantly free up time for farmers to improve their farms.

“The use of herbicides as a weed control strategy under under conservation agriculture (CA) in Zimbabwe was tested in two consecutive cropping season in 2009-10 and 2010-11… The use of herbicides in conservation agriculture systems can be recommended in most farming circumstances; it controls weed species that are difficult to manage, reduces the weeding time for farmers and is seen as a viable option even for smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe.

The results show that it is economical to use herbicides under CA because farmers save at least US$388 worth of time to be used on other off-or on-farm activities.

The time savings by using herbicides under CA can only be a benefit if farmers use this additional time meaningfully for other tasks. Farmers who choose to use herbicides are likely to have more time to commit to other farm operations such as growing vegetables in their gardens for sale, value addition to their farm products and some may also sell their labour off-farm to improve their income. The use of herbicides under CA systems reduces the labour constraints during the peak labour demand periods of the season… With improved weed management through use of herbicides, smallholder farmers can increase their yields and recover the costs of herbicides use.” 

Authors: Tarirai Muoni, et al.
Affiliation: University of Zimbabwe
Title: Weed control in conservation agriculture systems of Zimbabwe: identifying economical best strategies.
Source: Crop Protection. 2013. 53:23-28.

Large Scale Insecticide Spraying Needed to End Locust Plague in Madagascar


Locust Swarm, Madagascar

For many thousands of years, locust swarms have appeared in crop fields and farmers could only pray. Locust swarms may cover several hundred square kilometers during plagues and can contain 50 million locusts in each square kilometer. A locust plague has been building in Madagascar. Conditions for the locusts got better and better and then received a boost from a cyclone in February. The storm created ideal conditions for the locusts to breed. Without widespread spraying of insecticides, the locusts would devour most of Madagascar’s crops leading to millions of people going hungry.

“A locust control campaign has been launched by the United Nations and the Government of Madagascar to treat over 2 million hectares of infested areas in a bid to avert a food crisis that could affect some 13 million people in the island nation.

Aerial operations to identify and map out the areas requiring treatment by pesticides are expected to get underway this week, FAO said in a news release. In the meantime, ground surveys, conducted on a monthly basis since February, continue. Procurement of pesticides, vehicles and equipment for survey and control operations is also in progress. Spraying operations are expected to start in late October, after the onset of the rainy season.

An assessment mission carried out by FAO earlier this year found that rice and maize losses due to the locusts in some parts of the country vary from 40 to 70 per cent of the crop, with 100 per cent losses on certain plots. The agency estimates that losses in rice production could be up to 630,000 tonnes, or about 25 per cent of total demand for rice in Madagascar. Rice is the main staple in the country, where 80 per cent of the population lives on less than a dollar per day.”

Author: UN News Centre
Affiliation: The United Nations
Title: UN and Madagascar launch locust control campaign to avert food crisis
Source: UN News Centre. September 23, 2013. Available at:

African Women Farmers Are Major Beneficiaries of Herbicide Use, USAID Study Finds

Woman Weeding in Africa

Women Weeding in Africa

The burden of handweeding crop fields in Africa falls on women who spend about 50% of their time as farmers pulling weeds out by hand. This enormous amount of time for weeding prevents African women farmers from undertaking other farming activities such as the growing of cash crops. Herbicides would greatly reduce the need for weeding time and empower women to undertake other more lucrative activities.

“…the future of Malian agriculture will be increasingly determined by labor constraints. Herbicide use in Mali has doubled in the last 5 years in part in response to labor constraints and is likely to increase substancialy in the future. Herbicide use has very positive spillover effects on woman’s time and ability to work on their own crops or collect karite nuts. More extension work and agribusiness training is needed, along the lines of USAID’s IPM CRSP’s work in pesticide literacy and safety, to ensure safe and effective use of herbicides.

All labor saving technology, such as herbicide, is likely to have a gender impact not as much in women directly using it, but in it freeing up women’s time for more lucrative activities. For example increased use of herbicide would free up women’s time during the key time of year when they collect karite nuts, July-August, potentially engendering an increase in the production of karite butter and better women’s incomes.”

Author: Jeremy Foltz
Affiliation: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Title: Opportunities and investment strategies to improve food security and reduce poverty in Mali through the diffusion of improved agricultural technologies.
Source: USAID: MALI. June 16, 2010. Available at:   

Fungicide Recommendations Are Being Made for Increasing African Groundnut Production

Fungicide Experiment: Ghana (top=untreated bottom=treated)

Fungicide Experiment: Ghana (top=untreated bottom=treated)

Peanuts (or groundnuts) are widely used as a food by Africans as they are a major source of protein. The productivity of peanut in Africa is very low which is particularly attributed to foliar diseases. Disease severities are so high in Africa that at harvest 80% of the leaves on peanut plants are defoliated. Research has shown that application of fungicides can successfully control diseases of peanuts in Africa and lead to substantial increases in yield.

“Lower productivity of peanut in West Africa is attributed to biotic factors (mainly foliar diseases)…

Farmers usually attribute leaf defoliation to maturing of the crop, and yield loss from foliar diseases is not recognized. Fungicide use is not a common practice in developing countries of this region partly because of lack of resources and lack of awareness of the extent of economic and yield benefits from application of fungicide.

Data on yield benefits under on-farm studies should be quantified to bring awareness to agricultural communities, and to improve access to capital resources to demonstrate that fungicide application can be economically viable with greater returns.

The objectives of our research were to quantify yield losses due to disease and to demonstrate the influence of fungicides and SSP fertilizer application on severity of leaf spot, dry matter production and pod yield of peanut crops grown in on-station and on-farm conditions in Northern Ghana, which is representative of the important peanut producing regions of West Africa.

Applications of fungicide were effective in controlling leaf spot and improved peanut pod yield on average by 48% in the three tested village sites under on-farm conditions and by about 40% under on-station conditions at two sites.

…farmers have an interest in adopting new technologies if they are certain of economic benefits. In view of the tremendous yield advantage, fungicide recommendations are being made to peanut farmers in this region.”

Authors: Naab, J. B., et al.
Affiliation: Savanna Agricultural Research Institute
Title: Response of peanut to fungicide and phosphorus in on-station and on-farm tests in Ghana
Source: Peanut Science. 2009. 36:157-164.

To Increase Income and Competiveness, Public Policy Should Educate African Maize Farmers About the Benefits of Using Herbicides

Weedy Maize Field: Africa

Weedy Maize Field: Africa

Maize consumption is a major source of calories for millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa. Within the next few decades, the majority of people in Sub-Saharan Africa will be living in cities. Countries in eastern and southern Africa are increasing imports of staple foods, including maize. In order to be competitive, African farmers need to reduce the cost of producing a unit of maize. Herbicide adoption would greatly reduce costs of growing maize and lead to greater yields and farmer income and competiveness.

“Rural smallholder production remains highly labor-intensive. On average, family labor accounts for 62% of the total cost of maize production in Zambia’s small- and medium-scale farm sector. Promoting the identification and adoption of practices and technologies that save labor and/or identifying labor-productivity-enhancing technologies through research and development will therefore help to make Zambian maize more competitive and allow farmers to maintain profitability even at lower producer prices.

Although only 3% of fields had herbicides applied, regression results suggest the benefits of its use are quite high. All else equal, applying herbicides increases gross margin between ZMK 363,700 to ZMK 376,300 per hectare planted… The magnitude of this effect is fairly large compared to the national average margin of ZMK 1,108,542 (in other words, at the mean, herbicide use would increase gross margins by roughly a third). …these results indicate that public policy measure should be considered to educate farmers about the benefits of herbicide application, as its contribution to smallholder income growth and regional competitiveness may be comparable to and highly synergistic with increased fertilizer use.”

Authors: Burke, W. J., et al.
Affiliation: Zambia Food Security Research Project (FSRP)
Title: The cost of maize production by smallholder farmers in Zambia
Source: Food Security Research Project. Working Paper 50. March 2011. Available at: 

Organic Cocoa Growers Likely to Switch to Conventional Production if Financing of Inputs is Made Available

Weedy Cocoa: Ghana

Weeding Cocoa: Ghana

There are very few certified organic cocoa growers in Africa. The risks of trying to grow an organic crop are great. Many of these growers choose to grow organically because they lack financial resources to purchase inputs including pesticides. With financing of inputs, many of the current organic growers are likely to switch to use of conventional methods with pesticides due to greater yields, income and less risk.

“…the total market share of organically grown cocoa is still relatively very small and accounted for less than 0.5% of the total production in 2002 to 2005.

For producers who cannot afford inorganic inputs and who currently grow organic cocoa, there is a large amount of risk (both in price and in yield) involved with an estimated 30% lower yield compared with conventional (inorganic) production.

The obvious challenge for producers to produce conventionally is to obtain credit up front to purchase inorganic inputs. Given the advent of organizations like the Cocoa Abrabopa Association (CAA) established in 1998 in Ghana, credit is becoming more accessible to producers.

The current organic producers, who are constrained to do so because of a lack of microfinance opportunities to buy conventional inputs (fertilizer, fungicide, etc.), would probably switch to conventional if financing for said inputs became available, say through a microfinance program. Thus, an unintended impact of a microfinance program might be to lead to lower levels of current organic production.”

Authors: Mahrizal, L., et al.
Affiliations: Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, University of Arkansas
Title: Necessary price premiums to incentivize Ghanaian organic cocoa production: a phased, orchard management approach
Source: HortScience 47(11)1617-1624. 2012.

Herbicide Use on Cotton Farms Could Greatly Increase Income of Farm Families in Africa

African Cotton Herbicide Experiment

African Cotton Herbicide Experiment

The income of family farms growing cotton in Africa is low largely due to the small size of farms- about one hectare. A major reason that farm size is small is because fields are weeded by hand and there usually is not enough family labor to weed more than one hectare. With use of herbicides, the need for labor is reduced dramatically and individual cotton farms would be able to significantly increase their acreage and incomes.

“Under rainfed agricultural production, common throughout most of Africa, labor bottlenecks at planting and weeding times often critically constrain farm output. During the four to six week period following the first rains, farmers must prepare their soil, plant and conduct the critical first weeding.

Under these circumstances, early season labor constraints, particularly during the first weeding, set an upper bound on the cropped area a family can manage using only household labor. For the average farm household in central Zambia, with five family members, peak-season labor bottlenecks limit the area they can cultivate under conventional hand hoe tillage to about 1 hectare.

In Zambia, herbicide application, instead of weeding with a hand hoe, cuts peak season labor requirements in half.

When combined with dry season land preparation, this reduction in peak season labor requirements enables farm households to crop 2.7 hectares of land under hand hoe cultivation using only household labor. As a result, hand hoe farmers can increase their income from these three crops to 2.9 million Kwacha ($620) per year, triple what they can earn under conventional hand hoe agriculture…

This suggests that cotton company inclusion and financing of one round of herbicides in their cotton packs could potentially raise cotton production and household income considerably.”

Authors: Steven Haggblade and Christina Plerhoples
Affiliations: Department of Agricultural Food and Resource Economics at Michigan State University
Title: Productivity impact of conservation farming on smallholder cotton farmers in Zambia
Source: Food Security Research Project. Working Paper 47. July 2010. Available at: 

IITA Recommends Herbicides for West African Farmers

Laborers Hand-Weeding

Laborers Hand-Weeding

The International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) located in Ibadan, Nigeria has been conducting weed control research since its founding in 1967. For many years, the research focused on “low-input” non-chemical methods of controlling weeds. However, the “low-input” methods were never widely-adopted by African farmers who resorted to the centuries-old practice of handweeding their fields. IITA considers handweeding not to be sustainable and recommends that West African farmers use herbicides to control weeds in maize fields.

“Although manual weeding is an age-old practice in West Africa, it is no longer sustainable because of high labor costs and the aging farming population. Judicious use of herbicides is recommended to control weeds effectively and increase maize productivity. We normally recommend the use of postemergence herbicides to kill weeds before land preparation and planting.”

Author: Alpha Y. Kamara
Affiliation: Reporter
Title: Best practices for maize production in the West African savannas
Source: IITA, R4D Review. Issue 9. September 2012.

Fungicides Protect Africa’s Wheat Fields From Rust

Treated and Un-Treated Wheat

Treated and Un-Treated Wheat

Rust spores that land on wheat plants germinate and infect the plant withdrawing nutrients. Fungus tissue proliferates until the epidermis bursts and pustules erupt. Each pustule contains thousands of spores that can be carried by the wind to infect other plants. Stem rust damaged wheat crops on a massive scale in the early 1900s. However, resistance to stem rust was successfully incorporated into wheat in the 1950s. Resistance to stem rust in most breeding programs was through the use of a single resistance gene Sr31. In 1999, a new strain (UG99) was detected in Uganda on a wheat variety containing the Sr31 gene. Yield losses of up to 80% were reported. Fungicide use became essential.

“Stem rust, caused by Puccinia graminis, is a serious disease of wheat occurring frequently in warm and moist environments, which is typical of the wheat-growing areas in Kenya. Although the disease has been under control through widespread use of resistant cultivars, the reemergence of a new virulent race, TTKS, has reversed the gains made by breeders, posing a new and significant threat to wheat in the Eastern Africa region.

Widespread deployment and cultivation of resistant cultivars had generally provided adequate protection without the need for fungicides in the past. However, the ineffectiveness of resistance to the new race necessitates new interventions in the management of the disease as efforts to incorporate new sources of varietal resistance continue. All the current commercial wheat cultivars are highly susceptible to the new race, and it is not possible to grow a profitable crop of wheat without the application of a fungicide.”

Authors: Wanyera, R., et al.
Affiliations: Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.
Title: Foliar Fungicides to Control Wheat Stem Rust, Race TTKS (Ug99), in Kenya.
Publication: Plant Disease. 2009. 93(9):929-932.