FRNs for EP&D Management

Lead Organization:

University of Greenwich

Partner Organizations:

atural Resources Institute (NRI); Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST); Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR); FRNs in northern Tanzania and central Malawi; Royal Botanic Gardens–Kew; Colorado State University NGO Floresta Tanzania; and local government authorities such as District Council agricultural services and Ministry of Agriculture extension services

Community of Practice:

East & Southern Africa


Tanzania Malawi




Most smallholder farmers depend on agricultural produce for their livelihoods. Many constraints limit crop production and storage, with pests and diseases arguably the most important. Left unmanaged, insects, pests, and pathogens can cause total crop loss. Commercial insecticides and fungicides are usually effective but have limited distribution. Misuse of synthetics through adulteration by unscrupulous traders is common, as is dangerous application rates stemming from illiteracy, poor labeling, or use of old, expired products, all of which contribute to pesticide resistance. Health and safety are serious issues: Smallholder farmers typically apply with no protective clothing, while consumers may be exposed to high residues. Research in parts of Africa has demonstrated that many smallholder farming communities are exposed to dangerous levels of persistent synthetic pesticides,contributing to multiple acute and chronic health problems that can exacerbate infectious diseases.

Previous McKnight funding has provided convincing published data on the efficacy and safety of using pesticidal plants by farmers and for consumers, the economic cost-benefits of their use, lower impacts on pollinators and natural enemies, and benefits to crop yields by acting as foliar fertilizers and reducing diseases. Agreement is widespread that locally produced botanical extracts are compatible with agroecological farming and all 10 Elements of Agroecology as defined by the FAO. 

This work could enable more complex research with farmers to optimize conservation biological control practices such as ensuring the persistence of flowering plants in field margins, more diverse cropping systems, agroforestry at landscape level, push-pull cropping, and ecosystem engineering. Although such ecological pest and disease (EP&D) practices have been well-researched in the Americas and Europe, African contexts often lack basic research on what works for local social and environmental contexts. Generating new knowledge at the landscape level will optimize how field margins, trees, and cropping systems can support natural enemies, parasitoids, and pollinators, reducing the boom-bust pest outbreak cycle commonly experienced when mono-cropped fields are sprayed with synthetic pesticides. The work must interact with issues of soil health and landscape biodiversity that are crucial to ensure healthy plants have the increased resilience to fight pests and pathogens.

Grant Aims:

The overall goal is to help smallholder farmers transition toward agroecological farming practices, particularly the adoption of EP&D management at landscape scale in northern Tanzania and central Malawi. This will entail botanical pesticide research on FRN priorities and knowledge gaps, evaluation of smallholder farming landscapes for existing ecosystem service provision for natural pest regulation, and development of methods of landscape manipulation that facilitate EP&D practices.   

Correspondingly, the project aims to address the questions:

  • Can increased perceived value of multifunctional botanicals lead to broader adoption of ecological pest and disease practices?
    • Can natural synergists improve the efficacy of pesticidal plant species extracts? 
    • Can uptake of botanical extracts by smallholder farmers be increased by evidence of multiple benefits for multiple crops?
    • Can FRNs develop sustainable agroecological business through developing botanically based services and products?
  • How do existing smallholder farming landscapes functionally support ecosystem services for EP&D management? 
    • Does local tree diversity and abundance in smallholder farming landscapes increase natural pest regulation?
    • How do existing tree species in smallholder farming landscapes affect soil and arthropod diversity in cropping areas?
    • What important socioeconomic drivers influence current tree/perennial presence in smallholder farming systems?
  • Will farmer demonstration of landscape manipulation to non-crop habitats lead to increased smallholder farmer uptake of agroecological EP&D practices?
    • Can crop field margins be optimized to increase natural pest regulation for FRN-identified priority crops through farmer management of margin plant diversity using multipurpose plants?
    • Can intercropping trees, other perennials, or annuals increase natural pest regulation and crop yields in cost-beneficial ways for smallholder farmers?

Outputs and Outcomes:


  • Increased FRN capacity to manage pest and disease problems through botanicals and conservation biological control practices
  • At least six postgraduate students trained through project activities
  • New innovations that help optimize use of crude botanical extracts for pest and disease control by smallholder farmers
  • Analysis of constraints and opportunities for landscape management to improve natural pest regulation
  • At least six high quality research publications in international peer-reviewed open access journals
  • Training materials for farmers and extension officers on farmer-validated conservation biological control practices that enhance crop yields in cost-beneficial ways


  • Reduced use of synthetic pesticides among FRN members; more food and food diversity produced by smallholder farmers using EP&D practices
  • Increased knowledge and scientific research capacity in the east/southern Africa region on EP&D and agroecological farming