Zamorano University Helps Central America to Benefit from Nematodes
With calls for reductions in chemical use, smallholder farmers need affordable biological options for pest control. In Honduras, a new product called NemaPower is helping farmers to improve crop viability, reduce pesticide use, and increase exports with a natural solution to the age-old problem of pests that harm horticulture and coffee crops. NemaPower is a biological pest control product that uses beneficial nematodes—soil-dwelling microorganisms—to control a variety of common pests, including white grubs, the coffee berry borer, and the sweet potato weevil.
In 2008, Honduran-based Zamorano University, which has been training youth from Central and South America in agricultural production, processing, and marketing for more than three quarters of a century, began producing and selling beneficial nematodes. Word spread about its new product when Zamorano solved a huge problem for exporter Monty Farms, whose sweet potato crop was 70 percent infested with weevils. After applying Zamorano’s beneficial nematodes, Monty’s crops improved in just two weeks.
With demand for NemaPower mounting, especially among smallholder coffee farmers, Zamorano realized it needed funding and other support to scale up its production. In 2014, Zamorano received funding from Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation to expand its biocontrol laboratory’s space and equipment and develop a marketing and sales strategy with private sector partners. The improved laboratory facilities are increasing Zamorano’s nematode production and reducing production time from 55 to 12 days, allowing the annual supply to increase by a factor of 20 or more.
The biggest challenge to biological pest control adoption is farmer acceptance and behavior change. Most Honduran farmers are not aware of biological pest control options and are hesitant to use insects instead of chemical pest control. In addition, the shelf life of this product is only six weeks and it requires refrigeration, whereas chemicals can be stored for up to two years. In the long term, however, they are less expensive than chemical pesticides, and farmers can apply them to crops using the same equipment that they use to apply chemicals.
To expedite the adoption of biological products, USAID’s ACCESS to Markets project and field technicians from the Honduran Coffee Institute are training smallholders to use biological pest control. This includes education on the advantages of beneficial nematodes and other products, including safety to humans, plants, and animals as well as the environment. With this combination of financial and educational support, in the next two years, Zamorano expects to sell NemaPower to more than 9,000 smallholders farming 25,000 hectares of land in Honduras, increasing farmers’ productivity and incomes and putting pests on the run.