• Programme: Horizon 2020; Call: H2020-SFS-35-2019
  • Funding amount: €7.6 million, of which €1.1 is for Bavaria
  • Funding period: 11/2020-10/2025
  • Coordinator: Prof. Dr. rer. nat.  Emily Poppenborg Martin, Institute of Geobotany, Leibniz University of Hannover (previously: Chair of Zoology III at Julius-Maximilians- Universität Würzburg)
  • Project number: 861998

EU project UPSCALE: More crops without pesticides in East Africa 

Cereals such as corn and millet are among the main foods in East Africa. But crops are often threatened by various factors: lack of soil fertility, extended dry periods and pests such as the maize stemborer and the Striga weed often result in smallholder farmers in this region earning low yields and falling below the poverty line. One solution here is the Push-Pull cultivation method, which improves soil fertility and increases crop yields by up to 200% or more, without the use of any pesticides1.

Push-Pull is already successfully practised in East Africa by over 200,000 smallholder farmers, but only on individual fields planted with corn and millet. The aim of the UPSCALE project is to scale up this organic farming method from individual fields to larger agricultural landscapes and regions in East Africa and from cereal to other crops and cultivation systems. 

How the Push-Pull cultivation method works

With the Push-Pull technology, the legume Desmodium, planted as an intercrop between the grain rows, repels the stemborer (push) with its smell and suppresses the growth of Striga weed. Napier grass planted around the grain field attracts the stemborer (pull), so that stemborer females prefer to lay eggs on the leaves of the Napier grass. When the resulting larvae penetrate the stems of the grass, it produces a slimy substance that kills the pest. The two intercrops have further useful side effects: Desmodium improves soil quality and Napier grass is a healthy feed for animals.

Women in particular benefit from this simple and environmentally-friendly cultivation method, as they are primarily responsible for field work. The fact that there is no weeding to do not only saves time, but also protects their backs and thereby their health. With the additional feed they harvest via Push-Pull, they can expand or increase their business by keeping cows and chickens. This not only increases milk yield, but also their income. The costs for chemical pesticides and artificial fertilizers are also eliminated. The improved economic situation allows women to send their children to school and also pursue other activities.

Exploiting the potential of the Push-Pull cultivation method

In order to determine which factors contribute to the success of the Push-Pull technology, the consortium has identified five research areas in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. These differ in soil conditions, climate and pest levels. 

Fields cultivated with Push-Pull will be selected in each of these areas. At the same time, control fields without Push-Pull will be selected. In close cooperation with local smallholder farmers, the researchers will test under which conditions the Push-Pull cultivation method works best. Which intercrops are climate-resistant? Which plant varieties can be best combined? Can Push-Pull also be applied to fruit and vegetables? How does the surrounding landscape structure and plant diversity affect Push-Pull? The consortium is also investigating the impact of cultural and socioeconomic factors on Push-Pull, such as land ownership structures, access to knowledge and capital and gender roles. 

Based on the data obtained, researchers can determine criteria for the successful implementation of Push-Pull in larger agricultural landscapes and regions in East Africa. In order for this to succeed, the knowledge of Push-Pull must reach farmers, the general public and decision-makers. To this end, the consortium organises training days in demonstration fields in cooperation with local farming groups. There, they learn everything about the technology and its methods, share their experiences and deliver important information for further scientific research. UPSCALE aims to increase the number of smallholder farms that already practice Push-Pull by at least 25,000. 

To ensure that the successful dissemination of Push-Pull technology does not fail due to the lack and overpricing of seed for Desmodium, the consortium is working together with state institutions to strengthen local seed production and operating systems, alongside the research work.

European and African expertise in the consortium

The UPSCALE project involves 18 partners from four European and six African countries. The consortium consists of partners from research, government, agriculture and NGOs. After signing the Grant Agreement, the coordinator transferred from the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg to the Institute of Geobotany of the Leibniz University of Hannover. The Bavarian Research Alliance (BayFOR) is responsible for the administrative project management in the project. From November 2020 to October 2025, the UPSCALE project receives EUR 7.6 million funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. Of this amount, EUR 1.1 million goes to Bavarian stakeholders.



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1Website Biovision



Prof Dr Emily Poppenborg-Martin

Prof Dr Emily Poppenborg-Martin
Institute of Geobotany, Leibniz University of Hannover
(previously: Chair of Zoology III at Julius-Maximilians- Universität Würzburg) 

Phone: +49 (0)511 762 3634

Contact at BayFOR

Dipl.-Geogr./M.A. Gudrun Lampart

Dipl.-Geogr./M.A. Gudrun Lampart
Project Manager
Phone: +49 (0)89 9901888-172

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