Keeping the bugs at bay

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Miguel Braganza

Organic agriculture is for the observant – those that use their eyes to see, their ears to hear, their nose to smell, their tongue to taste, their hands to touch, and their brain to think. What chemical-based agriculture experts call ‘weeds’ is a resource for organic farmers. Almost everyone knows that ‘lemongrass’ repels mosquitoes – but there are many other plants that do this that we did not know about till we adopted the humble goat as our mentor: plants that the goat does not browse are good insect repellents!

The most common candidate is the smoke weed or Eupatorium species in the coastal belt. Another is the congress grass or Parthenium species on the Deccan Plateau and the Indo-Gangetic Plain that came to us with the PL-480 wheat, donated by the people of America in the 1960s when India was not self-sufficient in food grains. That it also changed Indian cuisine from rice, millets, and pulses to a wheat-dependent one is another matter. No animal eats these plants. An infusion or extract of these plants will drive away any slug, mollusc, insect, arthropod, or animal.

We have considered the Gliricidia leaves as good manure for coconut trees as well as for paddy fields, hence the name ‘sareachem zadd’. It is a good insect repellent, too. 

Some of us know of the datura plant while many more now know of the neem tree. Goa is part of the Konkan region of India, where the anthill is worshipped as the representation of the formless goddess Sateri. The use of insecticides to kill the termites and other insects is, obviously, not a part of the culture and tradition of the Konkan, including Goa. Organic agriculture with insect repellents instead of insect killers is good for our ethics.

A new generation of agriculture graduates is making waves in Goa now. These young men and women have been groomed in organic agriculture with hands-on experience over the last five years. Now, it is their turn to share their skills with farmers and garden enthusiasts across Goa and parts of Kerala, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. Organising an Agricos Alumni Association’s webinar series online every Sunday afternoon, these young graduates have a reach that goes all the way to Delhi in the north and Chennai in the south-east and the range of participants is growing.

The dus-patra or ‘ten leaves’ decoction of leaves from any of these plants: papaya, marigold, datura, neem, tulsi sitaphal, ramphal, gliricidia, eupatorium, lantana, nerium, thevetia, or kanner, lingudd, karanj and wood apple or bael-foll, can be used as an insect repellent. One may add five grams each of crushed or ground ginger, garlic, green chillies, and turmeric. Ten kilograms of chopped leaves are cooked in ten litres of hot water for ten minutes or fermented with ten litres of cow urine or activated effective microorganisms (EM) for ten days and then strained through a muslin cloth or old cotton cloth, a t-shirt, or saree. Thirty millilitres or two tablespoonfuls (half peg) of the dus-patra diluted to one litre in water can be sprayed on plants, vegetable, or fruits at a 15-day interval when pests are seen. Do not spray in the week before harvest.