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Exploiting chemical ecology and species diversity: Stem borer and striga control for maize and sorghum in Africa

by Z R Khan, J A Pickett, J Van den Berg, L J Wadhams, C M Woodcock
Pest Management Science ()

Abstract

Stem borers, comprising the larvae of a group of lepidopterous insects, and parasitic witchweeds, particularly Striga hermonthica and S asiatica, cause major yield losses in subsistence cereal production throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Studies are described that have led to the development of a 'push-pull' strategy for minimising stem borer damage to maize and sorghum. This involved the selection of plant species that could be employed as trap crops to attract colonisation away from the cereal plants, or as intercrops to repel the pests. The two most successful trap crop plants were Napier grass, Pennisetum purpureum, and Sudan grass, Sorghum sudanensis. The intercrop giving maximum repellent effect was molasses grass, Melinis minutiflora, but two legume species, silverleaf, Desmodium uncinatum, and greenleaf, D intortum, gave good results and had the added advantage of suppressing development of S hermonthica. In terms of stem borer control, the plant chemistry responsible involves release of attractant semiochemicals from the trap plants and repellent semiochemicals from the intercrops. With M minutiflora, parasitism of stem borers was also increased by certain chemicals repellent to ovipositing adults. The mechanism of striga control has not been fully elucidated, but allelopathic effects from the Desmodium species have been shown to involve stimulation of germination and interference with haustorial development. Significant beneficial effects have been obtained with the individual components of these push-pull strategies. However, the most robust crop-protection package is obtained when these components are combined. The trap crop and intercrop plants also provide valuable forage for cattle, often reared in association with subsistence cereal production. There has been considerable take-up of the system within the communities where farmer-managed trials have been carried out, particularly in the Trans Nzoia and Suba districts of Kenya, and the programme is set to expand throughout and beyond Kenya. (C) 2000 Society of Chemical Industry.

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