Mak student designs, “the Push-Pull App” to guide farmers control maize and sorghum pests

Paul Mugisha

Makerere university student Paul Mugisha in collaboration with a team of scientists from ICIPE, Keele University and Leeds University has developed a mobile app to help maize and sorghum farmers to control pests without using pesticides.

Paul Mugisha is undertaking a Master of Science in Plant breeding and Seed systems at Makerere University’s Department of Agricultural Production, School of Agricultural Sciences under the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES).  Mugisha is also the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Agape Innovations Ltd.

The purpose of this app is to enable a farmer to do push-pull on his garden without  interacting  with an extension agent but purely using his mobile phone which does not only solve the problem of scarcity of extension workers, but also, prevents the spread of COVID-19.

The new app code-named, “ the Push-Pull App”, was launched and made available  for use on google play store on  9th August, 2021 by an international team of scientists to support farmers across Africa to use innovative, environmentally-friendly techniques for evading crop pests.

In a press release issued during the launch, scientists noted that African smallholder farmers face major challenges from insect pests such as fall armyworm, and weeds such as striga that can destroy their crops. Fall armyworm is a serious threat to food security and livelihoods and already affects at least 400,000 hectares, causing crop losses worth an estimated $3 billion a year.

In the release, the “Push-Pull technology” was described as a novel method of crop management and a solution which can massively reduce farmers’ losses from pests and increase their harvest sizes, whilst avoiding the need to use harmful and expensive chemical pesticides.

The media release in part states that the “Push-Pull technology” is a scientific method of planting crops like maize and sorghum, alongside particular species of forage grasses and legumes that repel pests and supress weeds.

“It was developed by scientists at ICIPE in Kenya and partners and is designed to protect the plants against devastating pests like the fall armyworm and the striga weed, with the companion plants also improving soil fertility. But a major challenge is how to communicate advice and information about this to millions of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, to get as many of them using the technique as possible.

To help address this challenge, a new mobile phone app has been launched by Agape Innovations Ltd, in collaboration a team of scientists from the University of Leeds, University of Keele and icipe.

The app is part of a larger project called, “Scaling up Bio control Innovations in Africa”, funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund, which seeks to understand how biocontrol methods have been used across Africa and to encourage their uptake”, Part of the media release states.

The Principal Investigator  (PI) Dr Steve Sait, from the University of Leeds’ School of Biology, said the Push-Pull method of pest control is decades old and is used successfully by thousands of smallholder farmers across Africa.

“We hope that this collaboration, and this new app, can help us extend knowledge of this technique to potentially millions of other farmers who could be benefitting from it. Compared to chemical pesticides, Push-Pull costs less money to the farmer, results in less damage to their crops, and it avoids harming other insect species that play valuable roles in the ecosystem.”

The PI said, research by the scientists behind the Push-Pull technique, including Keele’s Professor Toby Bruce, has proven that odours released by the companion plants can effectively repel fall armyworm and protect crops against the pest.

Early adopter farmers according to the scientists have had great success with this technique, reporting five times less fall armyworm damage and a doubling or even tripling of crop yield, showing the huge potential this has for farmers and crop-producing smallholders. In addition he said, It also reduces the environmental impact of farming by protecting against pests without using pesticides, as well as improving soil quality without inorganic fertilisers.

Dr. Steve Sait explained that the Push-Pull App has been developed by Agape innovations and is available on Android phones, designed to work on the basic smartphones that are being increasingly used by smallholder farmers in Africa.

The App he adds, gives farmers information they need to get started with Push-Pull farming, and is not only free but 100% available offline, meaning a lack of internet connection in rural regions will not affect its function.

“The ultimate goal is to provide a resource for farmers that is informed by science, protects their crops and improves their harvest, which they can access any time of day from anywhere in the world”.

Professor Toby Bruce from Keele University’s School of Life Sciences said the team was excited to see if this App can serve as a vehicle for taking practical information to the farmer.

“It is designed to share key details about how to get started with Push-Pull. We hope this will increase the number of farmers taking up this innovative approach that provides real benefits by improving crop protection and food security.” Prof. Toby Bruce said.

Makerere University student- the App designer Mr. Paul Mugisha, who is also CEO of Agape Innovations Ltd underscored the siginificance of ICT in addressing farmers’ challenges in critical challenging times involving natural calamities.

“With the world going digital and uncertainties like Covid-19 amplifying the challenges of physical interactions, ICT is so vital in today and tomorrow’s agriculture. At Agape, we built the Push-Pull app as a global tool to equip a farmer with all that is needed for a successful push-pull garden.

Embedded with audio, visual and graphical expressions we are certain that the Push-Pull app will be relevant to maize and sorghum farmers worldwide for both today and tomorrow in controlling FAW, Striga and Maize stalk borer”, Mr. Mugisha explained.

Mugisha said, in this Push and Pull technology, maize is intercropped with legumes, and forage grasses are planted around this intercrop as a border around the garden. The legume intercrop produces chemicals that repels the pests from the garden (push) while the forage grass in the boundary produces chemicals that attracting insect pests (pull). In addition, the chemicals released by the intercrop roots also cause abortive germination of the parasitic striga weed, providing effective control of this stubborn weed. The legume also fixes nitrogen into the soil thus boosting soil productivity..

More about the PUSH-PULL App

What is Push-Pull App?

PUSH-PULL app is a mobile application that serves as a guide to a farmer whose interest is to control pests in maize and sorghum (like fall army worm and maize stem borer) without using chemicals and also improve the soil conditions without using artificial fertilizers.

The PUSH-PULL app acts as an extension agent on a farmer’s mobile phone providing information about a farming method called push-pull that was developed by scientists at ICIPE, a method that uses natural means for pest control and soil improvement.

What problem is PUSH-PULL app trying to solve?

With PUSH-PULL app, a farmer can access information at anytime of the day be at 6 am on a Sunday morning or at Thursday mid-night, something that is not possible with an extension agent. With this app, a farmer can access information anywhere, whether in his car, in his garden or on his way to the shop. Information is conveniently available for the farmer. With this app, farmers all over the world can access the information on their phones. Whether in Cambodia, Ecuador or in Burkina faso, push-pull information is available

What makes PUSH-PULL app unique?

  • Push-Pull App can operate offline 100%. This means it is not limited by internet connectivity and access, which is a big issue in rural communities in developing countries. You therefore do not need internet to use this application
  • PUSH-PULL App is 100% free. Anyone can download it for free, access all the app’s section for free and use the information in the app for free.
  • Push-Pull App has visual and audio capabilities. it provides you with the options of either reading or listening to the information therein. The app also has elaborate graphics to help the farmer visualize the information
  • PUSH-PULL App is compatible with all android versions. This means that the app can operate on all phones with google play store. It can also work on computers as long as they have an app enabling system (bluestacks)
  • PUSH-PULL App occupies little space and is fast. The app is light and doesn’t occupy much space on the phone making it handy to download and use.
  • PUSH-PULL App is also considerate of the user’s privacy in that an option is provided where a farmers can open and use the app without providing his information (skip logging in)
  • PUSH-PULL App is also easy to navigate through, has simple and easily understandable language and provides additional features like YouTube links and google map links to help the farmer in getting help as far as push-pull technology uptake is concerned

Who can use the app?

Farmers of maize and sorghum, extension workers, agricultural researchers and anyone interested in push-pull technology

How can I find the app?

  • Open your phone
  • Look for an icon called google play store
  • Click on the icon and on the search option (the space at the top), type in PUSH-PULL app and click search or OK or Enter (depending on your phone)
  • Icons will appear. Click on the icon labelled PUSH-PULL app (with the plant logo)
  • Click on install and wait for the app to be installed (this takes a few seconds)
  • Click on open and the app will open.
  • You can start interacting with the app
  • If you want to watch a video on how to operate the push-pull app, you can go on you-tube and search for how to install and use the push-pull app. Once you search for that, a video will appear that will guide you through the whole process.

Designed by

Mugisha Paul
MSc.Plant Breeding and Seed Systems
MARCCI/DAP/SAS/CAES/MAK
With support from
ICIPE, Keele University, Leeds University

Report Compiled by:
Jane Anyango,
Principal Communication Officer,
College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES)



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