SLU news

Grace contributes to food security with push-pull technologies

Published: 09 September 2021
A smiling woman in a sun hat is holding a plant outdoors. Photo.

Grace Mercy want to contribute to food security, sustainable agriculture and new biocontrol solutions with her new PhD project on push-pull technology. This is a cropping system that that reduces pest pressure by providing repellent stimuli (push), combined with attractive stimuli (pull). We took the chance to ask her some questions!

Grace Mercy is working at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, ICIPE, in Nairobi, Kenya and was admitted to the PhD education at SLU in August this year.

– My arrival to Sweden has been delayed due to the pandemic, but I hope that I will be able to travel to Sweden and officially start my PhD education in December 2021 or January 2022, says Grace.

Interactions with plants and pollinators

Grace completed her MSc degree in 2019 and after that she joined the Department of Environmental Health at ICIPE. There, she started working with a project on interactions with plant and pollinators.

– At ICIPE I work with field studies and data analysis. I am also developing field protocols for my PhD studies that will investigate push-pull technology. In my PhD work, I hope to make contributions in matters of food security, sustainable agriculture, bio-control solutions and to realize sustainable development goal 2 on Zero hunger.

A woman stands by corn plants with a pencil in her hand. Photo.
Push-pull was developed to protect maize crops from stem borers but has been found to also reduce weeds and improve soil fertility.
A woman is standing by a car with an open back door. The ground on the ground is red. Photo.
Grace Mercy during field work in Kenya.

Many unknown factors in push-pull

The push-pull technology is a cost-effective, and long-term management practice created for African smallholder farms. It is a cropping system developed by ICIPE and partners that reduces pest pressure by providing repellent stimuli (push), combined with attractive stimuli (pull). Push-pull was developed to protect maize crops from stem borers but has been found to also reduce the fall army worm, striga weeds and improve soil fertility.

– However, the approach's results vary geographically, and its performance is unknown in a changing climate. There is little information about how push-pull impacts invertebrate food webs and whether push-pull can contribute to more resilient ecosystem functioning.

Studies in five countries

– In my PhD project I will attempt to increase our understanding of when and where push-pull is most likely to work. I will carry out the study in five East African countries.

Have you had any difficulties in the preparations for your PhD project?

– Well, harmonizing field protocols for two different work packages in the project are quite cumbersome, but nothing I cannot handle!

What are you up to when you are not working?

– I am an avid traveller! I also enjoy landscape and macro photography as well as volunteer work, concludes Grace.