Tephrosia Vogelii is a herb long used by pastoralists to fight ticks in their livestock that is now moving into the mainstream as interest rises in local and organic farming techniques, with 3000 farmers now grinding the plant’s leaves to make a solution to apply to their animals to keep them tick-free.
According to Bernard Wainana, an ethno veterinarian, the usefulness of the plant came to light in the 1980s after researchers realized that the continued use of a single tick chemical saw ticks develop a resistance to it over time, ending its efficacy.
But research showed that many of the Samburu and Maasai pastoralists were dealing with the tick menace effectively by using local plants. Subsequent studies by bodies such as the World Agroforestry Centre and the Botany Department at the National Museums of Kenya found Tephrosia Vogelii had elements that killed ticks, tsetse flies and fleas in livestock and mites and aphids in crops.
But the pastoralists would also interchange its use with other crops like tobacco to fight the ticks.
The research also found that Tephrosia Vogelii - also called fish bean poison - could only kill ticks that were not fully grown and that had soft skins. Pastoralists would pluck the older, larger ticks, or they would fall off the animals. But, said Wainana, killing the young ticks helped interrupt the reproduction cycle.
The herb’s leaves are non toxic to mammals and birds and can be used even on calves. “Human beings are not likely to be poisoned,” said Wainana. However in Kenya, the herb is under restrictive cultivation, especially near water bodies,as the leaves are poisonous to fish and many fishermen were using it to poison and catch fish.
The result was a government ban on it being grown near large-scale water bodies. However ,farmers interested in using Tephrosia Vogelii for livestock can get seeds from Kenya Organic Agricultural Network or Kenya Institute of Organic Farming offices.
Its roots, however, are poisonous to mammals, and while this has meant care in planting it has also seen the plant used to eradicate moles from a field.
To use it to fight ticks, farmers grind the leaves in a miniature pestle and mortar and the green liquid extract is mixed with clean water and allowed to settle for 12 hours. The mixture can then be applied on animals with a sponge, cloth or sprayed on. Although when a farmer uses a sprayer, he must remove the leaves to avoid clogging the mechanism.
Wainana advises farmers to mix the solution with soap to make it stick better to animals.
The spraying then needs to be done again 7 days later. A mature grade cow ideally requires 400 grams of ground Tephrosia Vogelii leaves mixed with 4 litres of water. From planting, Tephrosia Vogelii leaves can be harvested after 3 to 4 months, although in dry areas farmers are advised to mulch around the herb to conserve the moisture and perpetuate its growth.
The herb is much cheaper than conventional pesticides, which typically cost from Sh300 to Sh400 for 250ml, compared with around Sh20 for a kilo of Tephrosia Vogelii.
“You can use it over and over and re-grow it for long,” said Wainana. It can be grown with other crops without affecting their growth, and can also be used to mark boundaries.
In Kakamega, where Tephrosia Vogelii is commonplace according to a report by Organic Farmer Magazine, farmers in groups such as the Bulala Self Help Group farmers are being trained on how to use plants like Tephrosia Vogelii and others to fight pests.
Farmers already trained are using the knowledge to earn extra incomes by spraying other farmers’ cows at Sh10 per cow. The farmers are lauding the Tephrosia way of controlling pests as it has reduced their chemical expenses.
Wainana is one of the three ethno veterinarians in Kenya and runs a project in Kiserian called ProFarms where farmers are learning about many green farming methods, including using Neem.