‘Half the fields in Africa don’t get planted because of weeds’

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Many people wonder why hunger is so rampant in Africa when the region has a favorable climate and soils. One of the reasons is that half the fields never get planted because women – who do much of the farming in Africa – cannot get chop out all of the weeds. CropLife Foundation’s Leonard Gianessi discussed the problems – and some solutions – faced by farmers there in this presentation at the Southern Crop Production Association’s State Affairs Summit.

Gianessi, who has traveled to Africa on numerous occasions, did a study that estimated how many women work on farms in Africa. The number he came up with was 100 million women who try to carve out a way to feed their families on about 100 million hectares. If you figure that it takes about 200 hours per hectare (2.47 acres) to remove all the weeds, that’s 20 billion hours of hard, manual labor these women endure no matter what their physical condition might be.

“Depending on this kind of labor has meant that the weeds have never been controlled well,” he said. “We estimate these farmers lose 20 to 100 percent of their yield even with this huge effort. They don’t do it at the right time, they don’t do enough weed control and the weeds take over. Half their fields never get planted because they simply cannot control the weeds.”

That’s the situation that CropLife Zambia, an organization of chemical suppliers, was working in when they embarked on a project to train 3,200 spray service providers in the country. The providers were taught which herbicides to use, when to apply them and how to apply them safely with protective equipment. Herbicide sales rose 300 percent as the specialists began to sell their services to farmers across the country.

As a result, yields of maize, a staple in the Zambian countryside, tripled, rising from an estimated 1.5 metric tons per hectare to 4.5 metric tons, according to the relief organization CARE Zambia. Many of the women farmers who saw the benefits of the herbicide applications have vowed never to hand weed their crops again.

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