Developing countries perpetually struggle to produce sufficient food for their growing populations. Future increases in agricultural production must come from increased crop yields per hectare, relying on increased use of fertilizers and pesticides. Current methods of employing those chemicals often result in soil, water and food contamination and endanger human health.
Assistance is therefore required to support countries in promoting the use and development of production capacity for cost-effective, eco-friendly alternatives to persistent organic pollutant (POP) pesticides by emphasizing non-chemical alternatives.
Towards a Solution
In November 2007, the Regional Network on Pesticides for Asia and the Pacific (RENPAP) Indian model of neem-derived pesticide technology, which uses the neem kernel aqueous extract, was presented and discussed at an Expert Group Meeting organized in Abuja, Nigeria. A recommendation was made to replicate and transfer the low-cost technology and the farmer training model developed in India to West African countries through South-South cooperation.
As a result, the Centre for South-South Industrial Cooperation (UCSSIC) of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and RENPAP undertook preparatory missions to Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. All three countries were conscious of the effects of chemical pesticides on soil, water and air contamination. The neem tree had been planted abundantly in those countries to combat soil erosion and desertification, and farmers were aware of its additional agricultural benefits.
During the preparatory phase, the project targeted resource-poor farmers and small-scale, village-level agribusiness enterprises and microindustries. It also targeted women and unemployed rural youth. Participating technical institutions benefited from technology transfer and institutional linkages. At the same time, soil, water and food contamination were reduced.
The project aimed to promote the use and development of production capacity for eco-friendly, cost-effective pesticides derived from neem kernels, focusing on neem-shed development, technology transfer, South-South institutional linkages, skill enhancement, training activities in villages to promote rural development, agribusiness and microindustry promotion, poverty alleviation and employment generation. It also aimed to strengthen environmental protections and eliminate hazards by providing a low-cost, bio-efficient alternative to toxic POPs and chemical pesticides.
To achieve these objectives, the project built upon the successful results of the UNIDO/India projects entitled ‘Technical Support for Development and Production of Neem Products as Environment Friendly Pesticides’ and ‘Production and Promotion of Neem-Based Pesticides as Environment Friendly Biodegradable Alternatives to Chemical Pesticides’. The project relied on strong collaboration and cooperation among project partners: UNIDO, UCSSIC, RENPAP and the relevant ministries in participating countries.
Neem (Azadirachta indica) is an evergreen tree native to the Indian subcontinent that can grow in almost all types of soils and agroclimatic conditions. It is now widespread in many African countries. In 1989, the United States National Research Council classified it as a “tree for solving global problems”, given that its bearing chemicals could serve as environmentally friendly pesticides. Other potential uses of the neem tree will also generate additional income and employment opportunities in rural areas.
Based on an initial study conducted by UCSSIC and RENPAP, UNIDO decided on a two-pronged approach to this project. It partnered with one technical institution in each country to carry out bioefficacy and phytotoxicity studies and field trials. It also partnered with a suitable civil society organization to raise awareness of the project and establish production and distribution centres in neem-shed areas.
The project’s approach consisted of establishing a national coordination arrangement, providing training for stakeholders and transferring technology to the three national technical partners. It also conducted field trials and phytotoxicity studies, generated crop-specific bioefficacy data and established three neem centres with production demonstration plants. In addition, it disseminated standardized technology for seed collection and neem-derived biopesticide production. The project also supports replication and scale up.
The project has achieved several results. A neem census was conducted to assess seed potential for neem-shed areas and pinpoint focus locations for future scale-up. Neem seeds were collected and nurseries were successfully planted. In Sierra Leone, neem was adopted nationwide as a new innovation in the agricultural and reforestation programme. Low-cost production technology for neem-based pesticides was transferred to national technical partners in the three countries: the University of Ghana, Njala University in Sierra Leone and the Federal Ministry of Environment in Nigeria.
In each participating country, a bioevaluation of neem kernel aqueous extract technology was conducted using scientific field trials under varied agroclimatic conditions. Trials were conducted for cowpea, cucumber, okra, maize and pepper crops. In Nigeria, data showed a higher yield for the 1.5 percent neem treatment against all other treatments, including synthetic pesticides. These trials proved the effectiveness of the neem-derived pesticides.
To provide hands-on practical experiences, neem-derived pesticides were demonstrated on various crops in farmers' fields. The equipment, materials and neem centres necessary to train farmers and promote neem-derived pesticides were provided. Awareness-raising and training programmes with field demonstrations for farming communities were conducted as well. Mechanized demonstration plants for the production of neem-derived pesticides were also established. The machinery, including depulpers, decorticators, crushers and storage facilities, was purchased, installed and tested. In addition, machine operators were trained.
This project had been used as a model for UNIDO and Global Environment Facility regional projects in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and the Southern African Development Community. These projects aim to strengthen capacity and provide technical assistance for national implementation plans under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in least developed countries in Africa. As a result, a regional strategy was developed for the production and application of neem-based and other biopesticides.