UPSCALE: Upscaling the benefits of push-pull technology for sustainable agricultural intensification in East Africa.

Meredith Schuman
Blanka Bucsella
Jakob Lang

This project comprises a Work Package and a Task in a second Work Package in the Horizon 2020-funded project UPSCALE is an 18-partner project comprising European and African institutions,with field work conducted in the Lake Victoria region of East Africa.
The UPSCALE project has been funded by the Work Programme topic “Sustainable Intensification in Africa”, subtopic A “African Farming Systems, sustainable intensification pathways”. The consortium will contribute to closing the yield gap in African smallholder agriculture by lifting barriers to the implementation of push-pull agriculture. Push-pull agricultural systems use plant traits to repel or suppress agricultural pest species (herbivores, weeds; push) and attract biocontrol agents (pull) without synthetic inputs such as herbicides or insecticides. The current well- established implementation of push-pull, for maize, also achieves fertilization without synthetic inputs by incorporating a legume intercrop, and a climate-smart version uses drought-tolerant varieties. When push-pull works, it can increase yields on smallholder farms by more than 300%. However, there is unexplained variation in yield gains, and barriers to adoption which include dependence of the current implementation on a perennial intercrop, which can be a problem in the case of insecure land tenancy. Improved information flow among farmers and other stakeholders is also very likely to improve both adoption and outcomes.

While we expect that push-pull still has substantial untapped potential, it has already been adopted by many smallholder farmers in the Lake Victoria region. Thus a paired system of push-pull and conventional maize farms is already available for research across the region. We will conduct field sampling and use remote sensing at these sites to determine spatial associations of plant optical, chemical and architectural traits with the occurrence of insects and other plant species, and assess spillover effects on surrounding landscapes. This will be done in collaboration with multiple partners to achieve rigorous and coinciding coverage of field trait samplings and ecological surveys, field-level remote sensing, and coordination with satellite data products. These data will be used to develop hypotheses about key traits for push-pull that may be used to adapt and modify existing systems and propose new implementations. We will then test a selection of these hypotheses based on stakeholder input about the most important issues to address and most desirable modifications. This will be done with input from, and in close communication with, other partners who are collecting survey data and fielding focus groups with farmers and other stakeholders.

The UPSCALE project touches on several aspects of the Earth-World framework of the URPP-GCB: social-economic systems represented by different stakeholders with a focus on smallholder farmers; land use, pollution and exploitation as drivers of global change; biodiversity and its link to function both within and surrounding agricultural fields; and the services these fields and surrounding landscapes provide. It affiliates a new set of research sites with the URPP-GCB, in an arrangement which continues the program's excellent tradition of collegial and supportive engagement with local partners, and which has strong potential to support important insights on interactions of humans with the environment, in the context of global change.