Major international prize to push-pull lead scientist, icipe’s Prof Zeyaur Khan

17.03.2015: icipe researcher Prof Zeyaur Khan has won the prestigious Louis Malassis Prize for Outstanding Career in Agricultural Development, awarded on Monday March 16, 2015 during a special session of the 3rd Global Science Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture in Montpellier, France by the Agropolis Foundation.

Prof Khan has been recognised for his work developing the ‘push-pull’ system to control pests and weeds, with his team in Kenya at icipe, the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, and colleagues at Rothamsted Research in the United Kingdom.

More than 96,000 farmers in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia have already adopted push–pull technology to manage Striga weeds and stemborers pests, which can cause complete yield losses, estimated to cost US$14 billion each year in sub-Saharan Africa, and affecting more than 40% of its arable land.

“I am happy that I have devoted my life to developing and adapting push-pull, and helping to bring food security to Africa,” said Prof Khan. “My aim is to reach at least 10 million people with the technology, while expanding the science behind push–pull to more cropping systems and different agroecosystems.”

The system is simple, but powerful. Cereals such as maize, sorghum or rice are grown with two companion plants, Desmodium and Napier grass, which together tackle stemborers and the parasitic weed StrigaDesmodium, grown between the rows of maize, acts as a repellent plant, driving stemborers from the cereal crop (the ‘push’). Napier grass, planted as a border to the plot, acts as a trap plant, attracting stemborers (the ‘pull’).

As an additional benefit from the technology, the companion plants provide nutritious, high-value animal fodder, which farmers can sell or feed to stall-fed dairy and other animals. This approach helps farmers increase food production and raise farm income without the need to buy pesticides and fertilizers. Desmodium also suppresses other weeds and improves soil fertility by fixing nitrogen.

Push-pull is a perfect example of a practical, affordable, low-input production system and with significant impact on the livelihoods of the poorest African farmers.

“This is a technology that is making a difference for many farmers, but particularly for women by significantly reducing the weeding task, a back-breaking task that is often left to women and children. It has also the potential to eradicate one of the major food security threats, Striga, in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Dr Segenet Kelemu, Director-General and CEO of icipe.

In recent years, the push-pull programme has been supported by the European Union (EU) and UK Aid, and icipe has recently signed a second three-year agreement with the EU to spread the benefits of push-pull more widely across Africa. The Biovision Foundation and McKnight Foundation are among the many other organisations that support this research.

The EU have congratulated Prof Khan on his award, saying they are glad to be supporting this initiative and other icipe programmes.

“Initiatives like push-pull are not only environmentally appropriate, but also contribute directly towards addressing food insecurity in Africa,” said Dominique Davoux, Head of Agriculture and Rural Development for the EU Delegation to Kenya.

Prof Khan has built an extensive network of partners to ensure sustained dissemination and uptake of the technology among poor communities. He has also trained over 50 PhD and MSc graduates, mostly Africans.

Support for push-pull and icipe

Push-pull is supported by the European Union, UK Aid, the Biovision Foundation, McKnight Foundation and other local and international organisations.

Core funds for icipe’s work are provided by the Government of Kenya, the Swedish International Development Cooperation (Sida), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and UK Aid.

icipe is grateful for the support of its donors from around the world, with funds provided by governments, private foundations and UN agencies. icipe also benefits from partnerships with universities, research institutes and the private sector.

The Louis Malassis Prize for Outstanding Career in Agricultural Development

The Louis Malassis Prize for Outstanding Career in Agricultural Development is awarded to someone whose career has been devoted to agricultural development in the last 20 years. He/she should still be active in the field of research, innovation, capacity building, development or policy.

Prof Khan is the first person to win the prize for Outstanding Career in Agricultural Development, named in honour of French agronomist Prof Louis Malassis, who founded Agropolis, an international campus based in Montpellier that brings together research organizations and institutes for higher learning in agriculture.

The 3rd Louis Malassis Prize ceremony was held during the 3rd Global Science Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA2015) on 16 March 2015 in Montpellier, France.

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