Pitch for Progress: Homemade pesticides to combat pest problems in rural Uganda

I have just returned from an enlightening four days at the Global Development Symposium in Guelph, Ontario. I had the pleasure to help represent Veterinarians without Borders at this conference. The schedule was jam packed with inspiring keynote speakers, including Mr. Stephen Lewis, and scientific presentations of exciting work that is being conducted around the globe.  It was extraordinary to see the passion towards positive sustainable change that transcended throughout the conference.

Amongst the key note speeches and scientific presentation there were ‘pitches for progress’ (pfp). A pfp was a presentation that was intended to present an idea that would change the world. Ideas ranged from creation of ‘one health’ networks, integration of one health into curriculums, and using homemade pesticides to combat pest problems in rural Uganda. The latter pitch being my own. I had the opportunity to present this pfp and receive valuable feedback that will strengthen my application and evaluation of the program.

I came up with the idea while talking with past volunteers of the Ugandan goat project. After discussing the current issues facing the farmers of the region, I was presented with the fact that their crops are being affected by pests, especially the borer worm. The Ugandan goat project works in coordination with the Foundation for Aids Orphaned Children (FAOC). FAOC has been developing a chick pea program in response to severe protein deficiency in the south west region of Uganda. Thirty-eight percent of children under five are chronically malnourished or developmentally stunted, 16% are underweight, and another 6% are acutely malnourished during illness or drought. The local diet is primarily starch based; consisting of plantains, cassava, or maize which is served with simple vegetables and sauce. Animal protein is too expensive for the majority of the farmers and only served on special occasions. The chick pea program was developed to address this issue. Using local chick pea varieties, farmers are encouraged to harvest their crop and sell a portion to increase income but retain the majority to increase their family’s protein intake. Chickpeas are known for their high quality of protein and relative ease to grow in tough conditions.

The scourge of pests is greatly decreasing the farmer’s chick pea yield.  While chemical pesticides are available, their use is unrealistic. These products are sold in bulk and are too expensive for the average farmer. These villagers often have no reliable means of transportation to obtain the pesticides. It is also not uncommon for these products to be tampered with, either watering down or adding chemicals that can be harmful to the people and animals. These chemicals are also very damaging to an unhealthy soil bed affected by years of monoculture plantain production.

What I proposed in my pfp was to experiment with different homemade pesticides using local products. From my research I came across effective pesticides made from marigold leaves, chilies, onions, garlics, and neem leaves or oil. These ingredients are boiled in water for 20 minutes or alternatively stand for 3 days. The solution is combined with soapy water and applied to the plants along with wood ash. This application is not new to Uganda. These methods have been successfully implemented at a small sustainable farm, St. Jude’s Family Projects, in central Uganda. I will be visiting this farm during my first week in Uganda to gain a better understanding of homemade pesticides and other sustainable agriculture solutions in rural Uganda.

I was nervous presenting this idea as it is beyond my formal training. When I discussed this idea with others they were often confused as to why I would address this issue and not something related to veterinary medicine. My response was always the same. Under the concept of eco-system health we are not bound to our professional limitations. Our goal is to realize a healthy population of people and animals while sustaining the environment. The pest and pesticide issue is of concern to the famers I will be working with and so I consider it my responsibility to do what I can to address the problem. A healthier chick pea crops and soil will lead to greater yields. Greater yields will improve childhood nutrition and family income. Greater income and nutrition will increase opportunities for childhood education and result in healthier immune systems, decreasing disease prevalence. Increased income will also result in more disposable income which can be used for animal vaccines, better shelters, and increased nutrition. Our animal health problems cannot be addressed by focusing on a single problem but rather by looking at the bigger picture. Healthy people and healthy environments will lead to healthier animals and more productive agricultural systems. For this to happen it needs two things. One is for people of different disciplines to explore beyond their profession. While my background is not in alternative agriculture, it did not take much for me to research potential applications for small hold farmers. The second is collaboration. I am not an expert in these techniques; my research has only scratched the surface on a vast body of knowledge. But through this research I was able to connect with people at home and abroad that are experts in this field. It is these contacts that will ultimately drive a successful project.  By collaborating with other professions, I can focus on the goats, while the experts I bring in or consult with will help to solve a problem that will further increase the health of the community.


The pitch itself flew by, but the research and preparation was extremely educational. The questions and comments from the audience created further contacts and options to explore. The entire conference had a very welcoming atmosphere. There were people from a variety of disciplines that came together to present and collaborate on One-Health. I feel very fortunate to have been able to attend and present at this conference and hope it becomes an annual event. I would like to thank VWB for their support.