Ecologically Based Rodent Management for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security in Africa

Rodents have a significant impact on people’s livelihoods in many ways, causing damage to many different crops, contamination of stored food, damage to buildings and personal possessions and the transmission of 60+ diseases. Commonly recommended approaches for managing rodents using rodenticides are usually inappropriate for small-scale agricultural communities and are causing significant damage to human health and the environment. As the main target group, small-scale farming communities will work together with agricultural researchers from six African countries to develop ecologically-based rodent management strategies that can significantly reduce the impact of rodents on people’s lives. Through studies on rodent ecology and action research trials, new and improved rodent management methods will be developed and disseminated to end users and research & extension groups throughout Africa and worldwide. The overall objective of the action is to improve scientific and technological research on rodent ecology and management in order to enhance food and nutrition security through the development of sustainable agricultural practices that can limit the impact or rodent pests on African livelihoods, reducing hunger and improving well-being. The specific objectives of the action are to 1) investigate ecological approaches to the sustainable management of rodents; 2) optimise ecosystem services that help regulate rodent pests and the damage they cause to agriculture and health; 3) innovate African-appropriate agricultural practices using indigenous knowledge; 4) carry out research on novel high-tech methods of rodent control that are argued to be more ecologically sustainable, e.g. fertility control, push-pull. Furthermore, the action’s objectives are to build Africa’s research capacities across a range of specialities related to ecologically-based rodent management including population dynamics, chemical ecology, animal behaviour, taxonomy, social anthropology, economics, agronomy, value chains & quality assurance, technology adoption, and end-user participatory research. As the project involves countries from the Central, eastern and southern regions of Africa, collaboration and cooperation at the inter-regional level will be enhanced. Partners and Associates involved in the action have all worked with the Lead Applicant in various previous research and development projects and have well-established communication networks and effective working relationships. The key stakeholder groups are farmer associations (highlighting the inclusion of women and youth), community-based organisations, agro-input stockists, agricultural extensionists, consumers, universities and training institutes, NGOs, commercial enterprise and policy makers. Previous EU funded research in the target countries has enabled discussion and consultation with all these groups as part of stakeholder workshops that have highlighted the constraints and opportunities as well as the need for alternative rodent management strategies. The expected results of the action are to deliver sustainable agricultural practices and new technology and understanding that can limit the multiple impacts of rodent pests on people’s lives. Both high-tech research solutions and the optimisation of indigenous practices can help deliver more ecologically sound rodent management that enhances food and nutrition security whilst protecting the environment and increasing agricultural intensification. The action’s results will help reduce the use of poisons that are dangerous to humans, other animals and the environment as well as develop new technology that will be more cost-beneficial, promoting healthy environments, healthy food and healthy people. The proposed activities in the action are divided in to work packages (WP) as follows: WP1: Developing fertility control instead of mortality control; WP2: Optimising ecosystem services and biological control of rodents through predation; WP3: Push-pull pest management through using indigenous knowledge; WP4: Non-chemical control of rodents through trap barrier systems; WP5: Innovating technology to sustainably protect post-harvest damage and contamination of food value chains; WP6: Uptake and promotion pathways for ecologically-based rodent management; WP 7: Project management, monitoring & evaluation and implementation of communication & visibility plan. Seasonal replication is necessary for such research, thus the activities take place over a 36 month period. The effectiveness of the research will be measured in terms of delivering at least five high impact (IF > 3.0) scientific papers in well-respected international journals and a policy document. Research activities proposed are highly innovative and may lead to further commercial development and patents as well as practical changes in rodent pest management practices by small holder farmers that enable agro-ecological intensification. Benefits to food/nutrition security and farmer incomes through ecologically-based rodent management will be assured through direct involvement of farming communities in the research process, particularly ensuring involvement of youth and women in the implementation.  

Work package title WP 1: Developing fertility control instead of mortality control

Lead SokoineUoA
Team involved UoGreenwich, UoVenda, ARC-PPRI, UoNamibia

Objectives • Evaluate the efficacy of the contraceptive hormones quinestrol and levonorgestrel on the breeding biology of the main rodent pest species found across sub-Saharan Africa, particularly the multi-mammate rat, Mastomys natalensis, and the black rat, Rattus rattus.
• Carry out field comparison trials of fertility control vs. mortality control on the population dynamics of rodent pest species and subsequent impact on crop damage
• Undertake an environmental impact assessment of fertility baits and rodenticide baits in terms of environmental contamination and non-target effects
• Complete a product registration assessment for licensing of a contraceptive bait for rodent management.

Justification Fertility control of rodents would be a major technological advancement that could be used to manage rodent pest populations worldwide. Fertility control has been argued to be more ecologically sound, more humane, and more safe and cost effective. Fertility control is widely used for many larger mammals such as invasive wild goats, cats, foxes, horses, pigs and mink populations. China has carried out some research on fertility control of rodents due to the often severe problems Chinese farmers face with rodent outbreaks contributing to desertification and poor air quality in Beijing, but no products have been commercialised for rodents. The logic of fertility control is that it slows down the exponential breeding potential of rodents over several generations but also prevents immigration as dominant adults continue occupy their ecological niche rather than invading farm areas. Mortality control using poisons often results in population resurgence whereby animals remaining undergo rapid breeding, and it is argued this does not happen when using fertility control as dominant animals are not killed and their territorial behaviour helps regulate breeding potential. Using fertility control could thus be more ecologically sustainable to control field pest rodents, preventing the often devastating impacts on farming households and communities during rodent population outbreaks where crop losses of 50-100% can tip families into food insecurity, the need for loans to buy food and subsequent chronic debt with long-term impacts on education and health.

Description of work Contraceptive evaluation. Laboratory trials will be implemented that evaluate the effects of contraceptive bait on multimammate rats, Mastomys natalensis, and other key pest species, including Rattus rattus, Arvicanthis neumannii and Gerbilliscus leucogaster. This involves feeding trials using laboratory maintained rodents and two hormones, quinestrol and levonorgestrel, singly and in combination. Standard protocols employed for evaluating rodenticide baits will be followed, ensuring double blind treatments and untreated controls evaluated for consumption and animal behaviour. Mated pairs will be monitored for fecundity, fitness & behaviour parameters to males and females. Histological samples of gonadal tissue will be evaluated for physiological effects.
Field evaluation of fertility control on wild rodent population dynamics. Field trials will be deployed in three locations (Tanzania, South Africa, Uganda), and seasonally replicated. Habitat selection will be based on records of outbreaks in farm-fallow mosaics in farming areas. There will be three replicated treatments (contraceptive, rodenticide, untreated bait) at each location, treating 1 hectare plots (at least 1 km distant from each other).At the centre of each plot will be a capture-mark-recapture (CMR) grid of live traps. The standard protocol for CMR typically consists of 49 Sherman traps arranged in a 70 X 70 grid, 10 metres between traps. Traps are set over three consecutive nights per month. All species captured are marked and released, and the data obtained are able to calculate absolute population densities for each age-class category, whilst accounting for migration and recruitment. These data will be able to look at the effects of the treatments at the population level and whether populations are reduced and the duration of effect. Damage assessments to smallholder maize production will be carried out across the cropping season to determine potential effects of the contraceptive and rodenticide treatments compared to an untreated control.
Environmental sustainability of rodent contraceptives. Much is already known about the persistence of rodenticides in the environment and their negative effects. However, due to their novelty little is known about the environmental fate of the proposed contraceptives. Chinese research suggests the compounds break down quickly, but this needs to be confirmed in an African context. Following standard published protocols, investigations will be carried out to determine whether the active ingredients are found in soil and water samples. These surveys involve collecting samples along transects within the treated areas at set time periods. The samples are chemically analysed using HPLC to detect the abundance of the active and break-down compounds.
Smallholder farmer attitudes and prospects for fertility control. Farmers may not be receptive to using baits that do not kill rodents. Thus trials with farming communities will be carried out with current/past experience of rodent outbreaks. This trial will help assess the potential for the technology uptake at the farm community level. Communities will be supplied with baits containing rodenticide, or contraceptive. Training on safe use and implementation will be provided to extension staff and farmers from involved communities where experimental trials will be carried out. Monitoring by the project team will involve collecting data on changes in relative abundance of rodents using tracking tiles and removal trapping; whilst changes in rodent damage levels, e.g. to maize crops, will be measured using standard damage assessment tools. Knowledge, attitude and practice surveys will be carried out with farmers and community households to gather qualitative and quantitative socio-economic information on people’s attitudes, existing knowledge and practices and their reactions and observations related to the trials with respect to efficacy and cost-benefits.

Deliverables • At least two high impact publications in journals with impact factors greater than 2.5.
• Data on efficacy and safety that could inform new product registration, commercial patents and private sector development of novel rodent control products.

Risks Extreme weather events and rainfall could make data collection difficult. However, carrying out the trial in different locations and over seasons should reduce the potential of adverse environmental factors affecting data interpretation.

 

Work package title WP2: Optimising ecosystem services and biological control of rodents through predation

Lead UoSwaziland
Team involved UoVenda, UoGreenwich, SokoineUoA, ARC-PPRI

Objectives • Understand the role and impact of domestic cats and dogs on rodent control in rural farming communities
• Determine whether and to what extent biological control with predators, particularly wild small carnivores and birds of prey, can reduce rodent numbers and damage levels in small holder farming systems
• Determine whether augmentation of predator numbers is sustainable and effective and how ecosystems can be optimised to increase natural predation services for rodent pest regulation
• Determine socio-economic drivers and acceptance levels of different rodent predators in African communities

Justification Predation per se seems to be ineffective in controlling cyclic rodent populations at high densities. However, at lower population densities, predation seem to be effective in controlling and reducing rodent population sizes. Furthermore, reduced predation in cyclic rodent populations which receive food supplementation (e.g. rodents feeding on grain in agricultural fields) leads to larger population increases. Additionally, population modelling of cyclic rodents showed that control measures reducing survival will only have long-term effects on population size if they are also applied when rodent densities are low. Therefore, increased predation pressure, especially at low rodent densities, can potentially lead to sustained population suppression. As such, predation can potentially increase the sustainability of grain production and its economic viability, especially among resource poor farmers. Furthermore, agricultural systems are often deprived of large carnivores which can potentially lead to localised increases in small carnivores and the associated increased predation pressure on rodents reducing the risk of rodent-borne zoonosis transmission to livestock and humans. When asked about rodents, many small holder farmers will say their only method of rodent control is to keep a cat. Predators such as cats or barn owls are commonly perceived by the public as effective rodent management tools. Predators are natural biological control agents and thus environmentally sustainable. With a range of natural predators (e.g. owls, genets, mongoose) found in African agricultural habitats, there is a strong case for optimising such ecosystem services and understanding the contribution predation can make to reducing crop damage and reducing the risk of rodent-borne zoonosis transmission to livestock and humans. Controlled research trials are desperately needed to understand people’s perceptions about predators as well as the contribution that predators make to controlling rodent pests in smallholder farming systems of Africa.

Description of work Cats and dogs to prevent post-harvest loss and disease transmission. Domestic cats and dogs are commonly found in rural agricultural communities in sub-Saharan Africa and often claimed to help keep rodents away, despite a lack of scientific evidence. Rodent populations will be monitored in houses with and without cats and/or dogs using tracking tiles and an ecological tool called Giving Up Densities (GUD).GUDs are routinely used to assess the “landscape of fear” in wild habitats looking at foraging behaviour of animals; however such tools have never been used in a pest management context. By assessing how safe individual animals feel when feeding from established GUD feeding patches, it is possible to understand various environmental factors that make animals feel safe or unsafe, including risk of predation. Both GUDs and tracking tiles give a good indication of rodent activity rates and how their population may change over time and in response to the presence of predators. Research will be replicated across four locations (Swaziland, South Africa, Ethiopia and Tanzania), placing out GUDs and tracking tiles according to presence of households with dogs, cats, both dogs and cats, and no domestic predators. The trial will be replicated over wet/dry seasons and across different communities. Effects of predation on the ‘landscape of fear” will be established alongside assessments of rodent abundance through trapping and stored grain loss and contamination rates. Trials involving the introduction of cats and dogs in collaboration with communities would then be carried out to see how this intervention could be used to reduce post-harvest loss and contamination to stored commodities.
Ecosystem services of natural predators. Small carnivores are known to be present in and around rural agro-ecological habitats. However for such predators it is not clear how much of their diet is comprised of rodents, particularly pest species that may be damaging agricultural crops. Using camera traps, a longitudinal survey across different landscapes (village, farming/bush matrix, grazing areas, semi-natural) will be carried out to establish which predatory species are found and their relative abundance. Using stable isotope analysis and scat/fur samples we will determine key diet components of common predatory species and which are relying on rodent pests for a significant part of their diet over seasonal cycles. This will provide information on the ranging behaviour of predators and their impact on rodent pests at different times of the year, pointing to a maximum sustainable density and habitat characteristics for predatory species.
Augmentation of natural predation. Most predatory birds breed once per year only. However, barn owls are one of the few predatory birds that can increase their breeding rate in response to food abundance. For this reason, barn owls are considered one of the more capable biological control agents, expanding their population as prey numbers grow. However, there is limited evidence on the efficacy of barn owls to control rodent pests in smallholder farming systems. We propose to carry out a longitudinal survey, trapping rodents as well as using GUD feeding patches at set distances from occupied owl boxes/nests and collecting regurgitated skeletons near owl nests to determine prey types. If owls are having an impact, we would expect to observe differential variation in trap success and giving up densities at different distances in different seasons. This will provide information on the ranging behaviour of owls and their impact on rodent pests at different times of the year, pointing to a maximum sustainable density of owls for African agriculture. Based on this we will carry out an intervention trial whereby we encourage owls in new areas by establishing owl boxes and investigating the impact this has on crop damage by rodent numbers across different localities.

Deliverables • At least two high quality publications in international journals with impact factors over 2.5
• First of its kind scientific evidence on the impact of domestic cats and dogs in the management of pest rodents and potential augmentation methods to use biological control to sustainably manage rodent pests
• Practical advice and policy recommendations on the promotion of ecosystem services and biological control of rodent pests across sub-Saharan Africa

Risks Extreme weather events and rainfall could make data collection difficult. However, carrying out the trial in different locations and over seasons should reduce the potential of adverse environmental factors affecting data interpretation.

 

Work package title WP3: Push-pull pest management through using indigenous knowledge

Lead MekelleU
Team involved SokoineUoA, UoGreenwich, BusitemaU

Objectives • Carry out world-leading innovative research on ecologically-based strategies that could result in new non-toxic methods of reducing rodent damage to staple crops exploiting ecosystem services
• Evaluate the chemical ecology and behaviour of rodents to develop push-pull strategies through cropping systems and/or artificial lures

Justification According to indigenous use, various plants are anecdotally claimed to have repellent properties against rodents (e.g. Crinum abyssinicum, C. ornatum, Allium ursinum, Tephrosia vogelii, Croton macrostachyus). Scientific confirmation through replicated empirical trials of such practices has not been confirmed. Similarly, odours attractive to rodents are more established, particularly chemicals emitted by germinating seeds and other volatile compounds from ripening seeds. Lures are increasingly used for insect pest management, e.g. mating disruption. And push-pull systems for the ecological management of maize stem borers are well-established. Developing similar strategies based on rodent biology and behaviour have not been considered but should be feasible based on existing scientific and indigenous knowledge.

Description of work Evaluation of repellent plants. Several indigenous knowledge surveys have highlighted that farmers in some parts of Africa use plants to help manage rodent pests. This may involve planting them as border crops, making extracts of plants which are sprayed on crops, combining toxic plants into baits, blocking rodent burrows etc. Some traditional methods are claimed to work through physical means such as thorns or roots, whilst others work through chemical means, e.g. stinging hairs, strong unpleasant odours. After compiling information from established literature, the most promising methods will be trialled following standard empirical replicated methods to establish their validity. Rodent numbers and crop damage will be monitored during implementation to observe effects.
Capturing and evaluating attractive and repellent volatiles. The volatile chemical odours of plants are captured by drawing clean air over contained plants for several hours, with the odours stored on Porapak adsorbent polymer. The odours are then released from the polymer and passed through a Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometer (GCMS) to identify the compounds. Different odours will be presented in an airstream to the African multimammate rat, Mastomys natalensis, which is responsible for most crop damage across sub-Saharan Africa, using empirical case-control behavioural bioassay arenas that evaluate the attractive or repellent nature of the compounds. These olfactometer bioassays present test animals with a choice between different airstreams, allowing them to freely move in their preferred direction. A blind protocol will be used, i.e. evaluators will not know which air stream contains odour or no odour. Replication will include the parameters of test odour as well as rodent age, gender and foraging experience to develop a shortlist of attractive and repellent odours.
Push-pull field evaluation. Based on the above activities, field cropping trials will be carried out to test potential cropping systems that aim to repel rodents away from the crop whilst attracting them to another area where they can be trapped/removed. This research will be done in collaboration with small scale farming communities where the effectiveness of the push-pull system will be ascertained under practical small holder farm conditions. Rodent numbers and crop damage will be measured to establish efficacy.

Deliverables • At least two high impact publications in journals with impact factors greater than 2.5
• New rodent pest management methods that are ecologically sustainable, suited to small holder farming systems, non-toxic, and requiring minimal financial inputs.

Risks The research principles are based on sound and well-observed natural phenomena; however, such research has never been carried out before, with all the inherent risks and potential benefits associated with blue-sky research.

 

Work package title WP4: Non-chemical control of rodents through trap barrier systems

Lead BusitemaU
Team involved MekelleU, SokoineUoA

Objectives • Evaluate technology transfer prospects from Asia that have been developed for rodent pest management within sustainable agricultural intensification programmes

Justification Rice production is well-known to suffer from very high rodent damage in Asian countries where decades of research and investment have been carried out to limit the impact of rodents. Indeed, rice is probably the crop that is most adversely affected by rodents, and countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam routinely experience pre-harvest losses of 15-30% due to rats. Rice consumption and production is rapidly increasing in Africa but where there have been no similar investments in to understanding crop losses by rodents or developing sustainable management methods. Fortunately, Africa doesn’t need to start from scratch and can learn from experiences in Asia and technologies that have been successfully developed to reduce rodent damage to rice cropping systems. Technology transfer is one way of rapidly changing agricultural systems, but it does need to be assessed under local conditions, particularly as the rodent species and behaviours are different, and rice cropping systems and cultural practices in Africa are unlike those in Asian systems.

Description of work Evaluation and demonstration of Community Trap Barrier Systems (CTBS). CTBS has been researched and adopted by many rice growing communities throughout south-eastern Asia. As CTBS works at the landscape level in irrigated rice schemes, it requires a certain level of coordination among farmers when individual household rice fields are small. CTBS works by exploiting ecological principles and rodent behaviour and has been shown to be highly cost-beneficial and works without using any chemicals. The basic CTBS method is to enclose a 20-50 m square with a plastic fence with an appropriate ‘lure’ crop. The ‘lure’ crop is an early-planted rice crop, established 2-3 weeks ahead of the surrounding crop. Entrances in the fence to the ‘lure’ crop are each defended by a multiple capture live-trap capable of holding a large number of rats. Because the lure crop actively draws rats from surrounding fields into the CTBS, it provides a halo of protection around the trap. Results from field studies in Asia show that this ‘halo effect’ can extend as far as 200 m in each direction. A single CTBS can therefore protect a surrounding crop area of 10-15 ha. Evaluation and demonstration of this technology will take place in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda, working with farmer cooperatives in irrigated rice schemes to determine whether CTBS can control local rodents species and to carry out a socio-economic analysis for it acceptability to farmers and its cost-benefits.

Deliverables • At least two high impact publications in journals with impact factors greater than 2.5
• Policy recommendations and leaflets for uptake promotion of CTBS in irrigated rice production in Africa

Risks Strong community participation and farmer cooperation is essential to demonstrate and evaluate CTBS

 

Work package title WP5: Innovating technology to sustainably protect post-harvest damage and contamination of food value chains

Lead UoNamibia
Team involved SokoineUoA, BusitemaU, UoGreenwich, MekelleU

Objectives • In collaboration with small holder communities, generate baseline data that shows how different traditional storage methods used by small holder farmers are susceptible to rodent damage, loss and contamination
• Develop cost-effective and socially acceptable adaptations that make traditional granaries more capable of preventing rodent access
• Evaluate new technology such as hermetic bag storage for susceptibility to rodent damage
• Quantify nutritive loss of rodent-damaged grain (germ removal), analyse faeces and urine-contaminated grain for presence of bacteria, parasite eggs and Aspergillus spp.

Justification Research to assess the impact of rats in small holder storage has been limited because of the difficulty of determining what is being eaten by rats and what is being removed for human consumption. Research in Bangladesh with small holders has shown that rats are eating about 5-10% of a farmer’s household rice store, or about 200-400 kg of rice per household per year is lost to rats after harvest. Because of their own continuous use of their grain, farmers rarely have a good idea, themselves, on how much stored grain is lost to rats, nor about simple cheap ways that could keep rats out of their granary. Lack of awareness lowers incentives to prevent rodent access. For example, awareness about diseases transmitted by rats is often very low, and faeces and urine of rats can contain many potential dangerous pathogens, and the moisture from urine can exacerbate insect damage and promote aflatoxin producing fungi. Quantifying these problems and communicating the results will provide incentives to householders to prevent rodent access to their food store.

Description of work Impact of rodents in small holder grain stores. Activities will take place in Namibia, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda. A survey of storage structures will be carried out to assess locally available options and existing practice, noting parameters of variation in structure design and materials used (e.g. storage in sacks, granaries, clay pots, etc.)Farm store types will be sampled for presence of faeces and rat-damaged grain on a fortnightly basis over two storage seasons. Subsamples of faeces and grain, both damaged and undamaged, will be collected and shipped to the lead partner’s laboratory to analyse for the presence of bacteria, eggs of endoparasites, moisture content, presence of insects and fungi. The frequency and type of pathogens will be determined, and data will be analysed for correlations between rat infestation and insect/fungi infestation.
Optimising indigenous storage methods. These activities will be based on preliminary findings about existing storage methods, investigating whether stores can be rat-proofed with baffles, lids and/or platforms, whether it is a question of maintenance of good indigenous designs or whether traditional methods are poorly suited to preventing rodent access and alternative structures or construction materials should be sought. By working with communities, a prioritised list of modified and/or alternative structures will be made to be used by farmers. These structures will be monitored and compared to traditional structures in a replicated trial to determine the levels of rodent damage, loss and contamination. Loss will be measured placing known quantities of grain in baskets or sacks within the store, and with the cooperation of the household to not interfere with the basket, it will be possible to measure how much of the grain is physically removed from the basket, providing data on the percentage of grain lost per kg and exposed surface area. By working directly with communities, this action research process should be able to deliver cost-beneficial practices and prototype technology that is perceived as socially and financially acceptable and proven to work at preventing rodent damage, loss and contamination.
Evaluation of new technology for post-harvest storage. A number of innovations for postharvest grain storage are being promoted across sub-Saharan Africa. These include metal and plastic bins and oxygen-impermeable plastic bags and cocoons for hermetic storage. Although these technologies have undergone considerable field testing to determine their efficacy to prevent insect damage, there is no published evidence of how well they work to prevent rodent damage. Hermetic storage devices, prevent gas exchange between the inside and outside environments of the bags, and thus as the stored grain respires the CO2 levels inside the sack increase and the O2 level decreases and insects cannot survive at such a low O2 level. However, many of the hermetic storage devices are potentially susceptible to rodents gnawing their way in, which destroys the hermetic seal. Rodents can gnaw their way through any kind of plastic and even metal, and this could have serious economic costs as such hermetic stores and bags are often quite expensive, needing to last several seasons to recover the initial investment costs. Empirical replicated trials on these new technologies will be designed to monitor and evaluate the impact of rodents under different environmental conditions and locations. This will involve placing different hermetic bags produced by different companies with normal poly woven bags in different households where grain is typically stored to look at their susceptibility to rodent attack over the storage season. The outcomes should indicate whether different hermetic storage technologies can also protect against rodents and/or whether further management is required.

Deliverables • At least two high impact publications in journals with impact factors greater than 2.5
• Practical storage structures for small holder farmers that prevent rodent access and that are locally perceived to be socially acceptable and cost-beneficial

Risks Good cooperation and trust with small holder communities could be affected by drought or flood and food shortages, leading to low storage quantities and the eating of experimental trials

Work package title WP6: Uptake and promotion pathways for ecologically-based rodent management.

Lead UoVenda
Team involved SokoineUoA, UoNamibia, UoSwaziland, UoGreenwich, BusitemaU, MekelleU, ARC-PPRI

Objectives • Increase knowledge about the multiple impacts of rodents on people’s livelihoods.
• Involve small-scale farmers in the assessment of rodent damage and rodent management.
• Increase awareness about the types of damage caused by rodents among farmers and agricultural research and extension institutions.
• Evaluate different rodent management strategies in collaboration with small-scale farming communities for impact on rodent populations and reduced damage levels.
• Develop sustainable mechanisms for EBRM promotion

Justification Generally, there is a poor perception about the impact of rodents on people’s livelihoods which is partly due to their multiple impacts (agriculture and health), the difficulty to assess some of the problems (e.g. crop loss) and low public awareness (e.g. disease transmission) about the damage caused by rodents. Current rodent control practices are often based on the use of rodenticides which are often dangerous and illegal. Misuse of these poisons is unfortunately common in sub-Saharan Africa, which poses a threat to human health and environmental contamination. More importantly, misused rodenticides may not significantly reduce the rodent population, therefore having little impact on reducing the damage caused by rodents. Other rodent management methods involving trapping, biological control and environmental management are more appropriate for the rural agricultural situations found in Africa. However, there has been insufficient research to develop appropriate ecologically sustainable tools and strategies for rodent pest management particularly targeting small-scale farming.
The
Description of work Demonstration of ecologically-based rodent management. Activities within WPs 1 – 5 will be developed in to a package of tools which are proven to enable ecological intensification of agriculture at the small holder farming level. This combination of optimising ecosystem services, indigenous practices and novel technology innovations will be scaled out to at least 60 communities across the six involved countries. This will be used to evaluate their sustainability and farmer acceptance/adoption as well as the level of knowledge transfer required to enable farmers to implement ecologically-based rodent management.
Kill trapping at the community level. Intensive or sustained trapping has not often been considered as a primary method of rodent control. Commonly cited reasons include 1) a belief that rats will become ‘trap-shy’ and thus increasingly difficult to catch; and 2) an expectation that the population will compensate for the mortality by various means including earlier onset of breeding, a higher rate of survival of young animals and an increased rate of emigration from ‘uncontrolled’ habitats. However, these reasons would also apply to the use of rodenticides, and trapping probably has not been seriously researched as an effective tool because it is relatively labour intensive. As rodent management research has been largely driven by developed country constraints (high labour costs relative to rodenticide costs), there is a need to carry out research within the constraints found in developing countries (low labour costs relative to rodenticide costs).The efficacy of different traps commonly available will be compared against new technology designs that are less commonly available through action research trials. An evaluation of trap efficacy, its effect under different situations, impact on rodent population dynamics and abundance, and rodent damage levels will be analysed over a 12-month period to assess temporal and spatial changes caused through continuous intensive trapping regimes.
Environmental management. The carrying capacity of the environment to sustain large numbers of rodents can be changed through often simple changes to hygiene and reducing rodent access to food, shelter and water. Demonstration trials will be carried out in collaboration with farming communities to show how identified rodent damage can be reduced through permanent changes to the environment. This may involve better waste management, or proofing food stores. The costs of making such changes will be assessed against the multiple damages caused by rodents in order to ensure a favourable cost-benefit ratio. New technology will only be taken up when end users directly observe the costs and benefits which accrue to their family, and these trials will necessarily involve farming communities to assess their overall acceptance and likelihood of being carried out in the future.
Advocacy for EBRM uptake pathways. We will use a focus group discussion through impact pathway framework to evaluate the complex social factors shaping small carnivore and avian predators (e.g. owls). Impact pathways trace change from research outputs, to outcomes, to impact. Research outputs represent a collation of current and/or historical research that describe the status quo regarding attitudes towards small carnivores and owls. We will first assemble research related to attitudes towards small carnivores and owls in African communities. Following the impact pathway framework, we will investigate if the different study communities share the same attitudes as other African communities which constitutes the outcomes in the impact pathway. We will then investigate if the communities act upon these attitudes (e.g. do they actively kill small carnivores if they are perceived as negative?) Application of the framework: During intensive focus group discussion we will investigate the following: 1) If different community members were aware of small carnivores and owls? What are their attitudes towards these and why? 2) Does the community attitudes and impact reflect attitudes from communities in other African countries? We will then be interested if communities acted upon their attitudes towards small carnivores and owls? If so why, and if not why? Can these attitudes be modified, and how? Research by project partners has established that if small carnivores and owls can contribute positively towards communities, they will be seen favourably. We will work with communities to come up with innovative ideas on how to increase the tolerance and acceptance towards small carnivores and owls. We will be interested to establish baseline rodent impact that will be acceptable to communities and quantify if rodent abundances as such damage levels can indeed sustain small carnivore and owl populations. The project will facilitate discussions between communities that have been involved in the EBRM project with extension agents and policy makers at local and national level. The purpose of these meetings will be to ensure the voice of rural farmers is heard by decision makers and for their experiences in the project to be communicated more widely. We expect farming communities will be enthusiastic about adopting EBRM activities such as intensive trapping and biological control and will be able to advise authorities on how other farmers can learn about how to reduce their rodent pest problems and what sort of support communities would need. Through participatory demonstration, project partners will discuss with communities whether the actions have been successful and should be promoted more widely to other communities. Assuming positive responses, the project team will facilitate meetings where community representatives are brought together with local leaders and ultimately national leaders, facilitating dialogue to create awareness and inform future decision making.

Deliverables • Scientific and community verified means of rodent management that are environmentally sustainable and perceived as cost-effective by small holder farmers.
• Community developed methods for EBRM promotion
• Community member advocacy team that champions EBRM to raise awareness at the policy level

Risks Engaging with policy makers is affected by many project externalities. Decision makers will be engaged from the start of the project enable ownership and support for the project action

 

Work package title WP 7: Project management, monitoring & evaluation and implementation of communication & visibility plan

Lead UoGreenwich
Team involved UoSwaziland, UoVenda, SokoineUoA, UoNamibia, BusitemaU, MekelleU, ARC-PPRI

Objectives • Coordinate all activities among partners to deliver project outputs on time and within budget
• Ensure timely technical and financial reporting to the African Union as instructed at the project outset
• Implement communication and information dissemination strategy for project outputs, targeting different stakeholder groups.
• Raise awareness through policy briefs of the importance and cost-effectiveness of ecologically-based rodent management for farmers through publicity material, mass media and farmer cooperatives.
• Provide a website to facilitate research activities and partner communication as well as to share information with the wider public about rodent pest management.

Justification Project size, complexity and level of integration/interdependency among different project actions require strict delivery and adherence to project timelines. Inter-regional collaboration must be facilitated to optimise team-building and increase knowledge transfer. Although rodents are a recognised problem, awareness about the true scale of the many problems caused by rodents remains low and/or misinformed through sensational stories and anthropomorphism. With the traditional reliance on poisons to kill pest rodents, little awareness exists on other methods of rodent pest management and their cost-effectiveness. This knowledge needs to be delivered to all stakeholders, i.e. farmers, extension and policy, through various promotional processes including the distribution of information leaflets as well as popular media including TV, radio and newspapers. Peer-reviewed publications are the gold-standard of scientific research, and good project coordination and support will ensure the maximum number of publications is published in high impact international journals as well as in open access journals.

Description of work Project inception workshop. A one-week project inception workshop will be held at the outset to enable all partners to define the procedures for working together to establish the project and achieve the project outputs. We will review the contractual arrangements for the financial control of the project and for the assessment of the agreed tasks and deliverables. Work package managers will present strategies and protocols to be discussed and accepted by all partners. The workshop will include training where needed, especially for standardised procedures that need to be followed by different partners.
Follow-up coordination meetings. Formal meetings will be organised each year with representation from each partner. In order to provide the project with independent evaluation and ensure key stakeholders are informed of progress, experts and end users will be invited to participate. Through this, meetings will have components that engage with farmers, local leaders and policy makers, NGOs and other scientists to encourage two-way communication. Presentations from each work package leader will summarise activities, followed by group discussions about progress. Potential deviations from the work plan and forward planning will be standing items at each meeting.
Activity reporting. Partners will prepare a two-page activity report every six months. The lead applicant and work package managers will use these to assess whether work progresses to plan and take action to minimise the effects of delays on other project activities.
Annual progress reports. Annual reports will be provided as instructed by the African Union and EC rules. Work package leaders will be responsible for collating information and making a single WP-report. The lead applicant will be responsible for integrating these into a single full report. A similar approach will be used to prepare the final project report covering information from all project years.
Project communication strategy. Implementation of the project communication strategy will be tailored to different recipients including research and extension workers, farmers and policy makers. This will involve the creation of a monitored open access website where all project information will be provided. One of the main outputs of the project will be peer-reviewed scientific publications, which are the gold-standard quality assurance mechanism for scientific research. We expect to produce at least 5 multi-authored papers targeting well-respected international journals. Through existing partner linkages with NGOs and national extension, at least 10 leaflets will be developed to provide farmers with appropriate information based on the outputs of the project’s research. The leaflets will provide information that creates awareness about the problems rodents cause, the effects of existing practice, e.g. illegal poisons, and how rodent pest populations can be prevented. The project will produce a policy document setting out detailed information on uptake pathways for ecologically-based rodent management and processes to facilitate promotion and information dissemination. Media organisations already known to project partners will be engaged to maximise opportunities to disseminate information about rats via radio, TV and newspapers as well as through community based forums such as farmer field days, farming exhibitions and agricultural shows.
Stakeholder participation and output communication. The project will engage widely with different stakeholders, but particularly farmers to ensure that technologies are developed with those who will ultimately employ the techniques so that they are appropriate and economically/socially viable. WPs 1 to 6 all involve working with farming communities, and it will be necessary to have regular meetings with each community to share information, monitor and evaluate progress and ensure communities remain engaged and supportive of the research taking place.
Visibility. The African Union and EC funding will be acknowledged in all publications derived from project activities. Their logos will be displayed on leaflets and posters produced for farmers and on the project website with links to AU and EDF home pages. Oral presentations and posters given at international scientific conferences and any project-organised meetings with stakeholders will acknowledge the AU and EC funding, appropriately displaying their logos.

Deliverables • Project activity and financial reporting delivered on time and as instructed by the project guidance
• Project website built and used to link to all project outputs and share information at the global level
• Communication/visibility strategy implemented
• Programmes promoting opportunities for more environmentally benign pest control and use of ecologically-based rodent management aired on radio and television.

Risks Efficiency of partners’ organisations is affected by political or institutional problems that affect carrying out activities or financial reporting.

 

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