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2-Plants: Traditional African farming practices can fight corn borer

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TITLE:  Farmer's Friend
SOURCE: New Scientist, by Fred Pearce
DATE:   Oct 24, 1998

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Farmer's Friend

Grasses that grow wild across Kenya can double yields of maize,
Africa's most important grain crop. Trials in which the grasses
were grown alongside maize have proved so successful that they
are about to be repeated in three other African countries.

The grasses do battle with the stem borer, a caterpillar that
decimates maize yields in millions of fields across eastern and
southern Africa. When planted around the edges of fields, some
spieces attract the moths that lay stem borer eggs, then secrete
a gum that kills the caterpillars. They also attract the borer's
worst foe, a parasitic wasp.

Other grasses, if planted between rows of maize, keep the moths
away by giving off an unpleasant smell. The grasses also fend off
a second major threat to maize crops. a weed called Striga that
attaches itself to the plants' roots. Between them, Striga and
stem borers typically cause a 40 per cent loss of maize.

Scientists at the research station at Mbita Point on the shores
of Lake Victoria have tested four of these grass species -- Sudan
(Sorghum  vulgare), napier (Pennisetum purpureum), silverleaf
(Desmodium uncinatum) and molasses (Melinis minutiflora) -- on
150 Kenyan farms. They proved so successful that the British
based Gatsby Charitable Foundation, which funded the research, is
extending the programme to Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

"These grasses are the same ones that farmers used to grow for
fodder," says Zeyaur Khan, the project's coordinator.

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