March 17, 2015

We were disappointed to learn recently that termites have invaded the larger demonstration plot in Togo, destroying about 80 percent of the test crop. However, it wasn’t especially surprising, according to David Reeves, agricultural technical advisor.

“Termites aren’t necessarily an enemy,” he said. “Actually they can be fantastic processors of soil, as long as they stay away from the roots. We often see them in the mulch, breaking it down and passing on their waste to microbes, which transform it into nutrients for the plants.”

In this case, however, the termites went for the manure all around the corn plant roots, disturbing them to the point of destruction.

“Due to repeated slash-and-burn practices, so much of the soil there is void of organic matter,” said David. “Termites quickly sought out the manure we used, because there is so little else for them to eat in the area.”

Due to better soil conditions at Jesse’s house, termites don’t appear to be interested in the test plot there. The corn and bean plants are growing tall and healthy.

There are many easily accessible weapons in the arsenal to use against the termites, including neem tree leaves, chili pepper and wood ash. David is working with Jesse to assist Frederic (local farmer) in the understanding and application of these techniques to ward off the termites. Now is a good time to have a challenge, when enthusiasm for the project is high.

You may be wondering why we didn’t take steps to pre-treat the field to keep out the termites, since we knew they had destructive potential. First, termites are just one of dozens of threats to a crop, and it’s not sustainable to prepare for every agricultural adversary. While it seems inefficient, it is preferable to see what problems arise before spending time and money. Each problem is actually a great learning opportunity, a chance for local farmers to learn skills that don’t require them to have expensive chemicals, machinery or supplies. By learning how to deal with the termites, for example, they will gain knowledge they can use for the next invasion, knowledge that empowers them to be able to succeed as farmers in the long term. A short-cut fix from us now would only enable dependence.