Crop pest scientist Dr. Khan shares breakthrough discoveries

Dr. Zeyaur Khan, principal scientist at International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), exploits chemical ecology and plant behavior for developing sustainable crop protection strategies for Africa. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

Dr. Zeyaur Khan, principal scientist at International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), exploits chemical ecology and plant behavior for developing sustainable crop protection strategies for Africa. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

If Dr. Kahn’s research is disseminated on a global scale, it could change the world’s conventional agriculture for the better.

Dr. Zeyaur Khan has been conducting research on corn crops for the past few decades with an organization by the name of Icipe to help understand and improve the developing world and its agricultural practices.

Over the years, Kahn and his team have developed a revolutionary new system that uses natural processes in the place of modern agricultural practice to completely change the way indigenous peoples produce crops. His Push-Pull system could possibly be the answer to many of North America’s current major agricultural problems.

Much of modern agriculture in the developed world is typically based on systems that grow one type of crop and require much synthetic intervention from humans in the form of genetic modification, pesticides and fertilizers. These have all been shown to inflict repeated damage on the longevity of the soil and the long-term biological and economic values of the farmland.

The decorated plant scientist has been developing his system for many years and as a result, has grown into a relatively simple solution to providing stable food for hundreds of thousands of people throughout Africa; a continent with the lowest production per hectare of land in the world. His systems have proved to generate crop yields that are around four to five times the original output without his system, all while remaining sustainable both environmentally and economically.

“We really need more people like Dr. Khan doing research of this nature. I feel that there has been not enough focus on natural plant pest and pathogen control methods and we will need more efficient and long lasting food systems if we are going to feed future populations. It is very exciting and promising to see work like this being done,” eighth-semester Sustainable Plant and Soil Systems major Cameron Collins said.

The Push-Pull system started as a project to control a single pest of corn crops, the stem borer, that was causing 1.5 billion USD in crop loss and damage for the farmers but slowly evolved to address many other pest problems as well, all using natural processes with the specially selected intercrop and boarder crops, potentially saving over 3 billion USD in crop loss annually.

The major problems facing Kenya’s farmers are insect pests of corn as well as parasitic plants that sapped the nutrients out of the roots, resulting in severe stunted growth. Using a nitrogen fixing intercrop, with boarder crops that act as traps and refuge for the pests. The plants in the field release compounds that help attract predators of the pest insects as well as drive the parasitic plants out of the fields. These crops are also perennial and can stay in the field for many years, even when cut to feed livestock and increase milk production.

These systems have been refined even further as of late, developing varieties that are hardier so his system can be applied to new growing regions without the fear of failure due to variations in droughts brought on by climate change.

Dr. Kahn’s work has been implemented and recorded on several farms in Kenya and not only showed control of parasitic plants and pest insects but additionally, his methods have increased the nitrogen fixation in the soils, increased organic matter, increased carbon content and sequestration, controlling soil erosion and reduces the spread of plant diseases, all while making the farmer more financially secure, better fed and much happier.

“His work could be viewed in many different ways and I think that if people see his work producing the results it is then it is more likely that scientists and producers will seek similar methods to be adapted to their local crop production. His team really proved that letting the plants and the soils solve our agricultural problems could really work. It’s like he hit three birds with one stone,” second-semester Sustainable Plant and Soil Systems major Liam Bannon said.

Dr. Khan and his groundbreaking research has been noticed by several major organizations that seek the spread of his technique not to mention a myriad of international agricultural awards. Organizations like the FAO of the United Nations and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation all seek to spread the knowledge that has been gained on his small research farms.

Dr. Khan is a Principal Scientist at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology and an adjunct Professor at Cornell University. His areas of research interest are insect chemical ecology, behavior, plant-plant and insect-plant interactions and climate change.

He has dedicated 30 years of his academic and research career to studying and applying creativity and innovation in science, particularly in the field of entomology and agriculture to provide practical solutions for real problems of crop pests associated with reduction in agricultural productivity.

He is a fellow of several esteemed agricultural societies and has authored/co-authored over 140 scientific papers in referred journals, over 10 book chapters, five books, and several training booklets and brochures for farmers. More information about Dr. Khan and his Push-Pull system can be found at www.push-pull.net


Dan Wood is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.wood@uconn.edu.