SLU news

What do an ecophysiologist and an agroecologist have in common?

Published: 20 September 2016

Currently two researchers based in Kenya are visiting Sweden and working for the AgriFoSe2030 program. Together they are doing a meta-analysis on how mixed cropping, i.e. when you grow more than one type of plant in the same field, help controlling weeds, pests and diseases. AgriFoSe2030 took the opportunity to ask the visiting researchers what they are up to!

- Tell us briefly who you are? What is your background? What are your research areas?

Shem Kuyah is an ecophysiologist and a lecturer in the Department of Botany at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), and holds a PhD in plant science, while Charles Midega is an agroecologist and senior research scientist at the International centre of insect physiology and ecology (ICIPE), in Kenya.

Shem Kuyah works with estimation models to monitor agricultural landscapes.

Shem works in the areas of in situ carbon stock assessment, development and use of biomass estimation models, and monitoring of vegetation communities. He also has interests in ecosystem processes within agricultural landscapes, in particular the influence of vegetation on ecosystem service provision.

Charles on the other hand works on integrated management of insect pests, weeds and diseases that is based on clear understanding of the interactions between the biotic (‘living’) and abiotic (‘non-living’) components of the agro-ecosystem. This approach allows for development of crop protection technologies that harness natural services that are provided, and are regulated, by the various components of the environment in which plants grow.  

Charles Midega works with integrated management of insect pests, weeds and diseases.

Shem and Charles will prepare policy documents and a review paper whose aim will be to guide design of mixed cropping systems that enhance ecosystem service harnessing for improved crop productivity. These will be for research and extension departments of national systems. They aim to disseminate these documents and guidelines through workshops with national, regional bodies and non-governmental organizations, particularly in Africa.

– What will you be doing during your visit to SLU, Sweden, and how does it relate to the AgriFoSe2030 programme? How do you contribute to the programme and what can you learn from it?

We are working with professor Mattias Jonsson from the department of ecology at SLU on a meta-analysis on the “effects of mixed cropping on weeds, pests and diseases”. This is critically important since most cases of poor productivity of crops in many farming systems revolve around ravages caused by insect pests, weeds and crop diseases.

While a number of studies have been conducted on the potential role of mixed cropping in management of these constraints, there remains a generality of conclusions, suggesting that results (positive, negative or neutral) are context specific. The meta-analysis we are conducting will help in identifying the critical role(s) of ecosystem service provision in such cropping systems and provide a guide on necessary steps in designing effective mixed cropping systems that enhance ecological service delivery for control of the constraints above.

The process involves critical appraisal of existing literature to confirm the knowledge gaps, formulation of research questions, conducting the meta-analysis and preparing policy documents that will spell out the guidelines as mentioned above.  

For the AgriFoSe2030 program, this work will deliver a framework for designing sustainable agricultural production systems based on sustainable intensification through mixed cropping, grounded on policy. The meta-analysis is related to Theme 3, ‘Increased productivity and diversity in smallholder cropping systems for increased food security’, of the AgriFoSe2030 program; but also contributes to Theme 2 on ‘Multifunctional landscapes for increased food security’.

For us, it is a wonderful opportunity to make a contribution in this area, to strengthen existing and establish new collaborations, and to continue learning how to contribute more effectively in our areas of expertise. 

- What are your expectations of the AgriFoSe programme? What do you think makes the programme important, and why and to whom does it matter?

AgriFoSe is making a significant contribution to issues around food security by championing intensification of agriculture in a manner that ensures environmental sustainability. We can’t think of any better time to do this! It is also enhancing human capacity development in the key areas critical in ensuring there is efficient translation of ‘science into policy’, such as our trip and work at SLU, a holistic view of agriculture, and partnerships that are critical to ensuring there is sustainability of the process beyond the programme’s life.

The programme is relevant to the entire stakeholder profiles involved in agricultural research and development, including funders, researchers, scholars, governments, extension agents, private sector players, and farmers. It is our hope that it will continue for a few more years to allow grounding of the products and processes emerging from the current phase.  

- Tell us one thing that you are passionate about related to food security and sustainable agriculture. 

Shem is interested and passionate about ecosystem processes within agricultural systems, in particular the role of plants in ecosystem service provision. We already showed through a systematic review that trees enhance supply of ecosystem services; but in some cases the effect is negative. This means that the effects of trees on ecosystem service provision is context specific; we therefore need to know how the effects change for particular tree species, for various agroforestry practices, or for trees growing in a given agro-ecological zone.

Charles is passionate about development and delivery of platform technologies that address pest and disease problems plaguing smallholder farming systems in developing countries and thus improve productivity and incomes; while at the same time ensure an all-inclusive process that also addresses salient ecological and socio-cultural/economic factors that influence the effectiveness and uptake of a technology.  





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