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The Yellow Center of the Deadliest Flower is a Lifeline to Farmers – and the Planet

Pyrethrum, Krzyszt of Ziarnek, Kenraiz / CC license

In Kenya, a trip through the central highlands will sometimes reveal a landscape covered in a beautiful white petal flower with a deadly secret.

The yellow center of the Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium contains one of the best natural insecticides in the world which, in addition to being totally harmless to plants, humans and animals, sustains the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of rural Kenyans who supply much of the world’s pyrethrum, the main chemical in the flower.

Pyrethrum is becoming an important tool in the fight against mosquito-borne diseases, as the toxin attacks the insect’s central nervous system, causing it to spasm and lie still for a period of 30 seconds.

It is also an excellent natural pesticide, not only for gardens and crops, but also for livestock, which can breathe a sigh of relief from biting ticks and flies if you rub a little pyrethrum on your neck, legs, and shoulders.

Just growing Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium Near any plant you want to keep insect free is enough to protect it from most pests, such is the power of the pyrethrum it contains.

“Pyrethrin is the most important insecticide in the world,” says Joel Maina Kibett, director of agriculture for Kenya’s Nakuru County. “It is natural, organic and has no environmental effects. And it’s easy to use. “

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How chemical insecticides are responsible for mass death of insects Around the world, the decline of bees and many other harmful effects on animals, the need for mass-produced natural chemicals is high. Kenya is especially well suited for growing the flower and the pyrethrum it produces, as its Central Highlands region provides perfect growing conditions for the flower that sprouts from the ground after Kenya’s two rainy seasons.

Flower monopoly

Tanacetum Cinerariifolium / Koehler’s Medicinal Plants

During the 1970s and 1980s, Kenya grew almost all of the world’s pyrethrum decades after the arrival of the chrysanthemum species from Japan alongside British colonizers. It became such a great economic engine that it was placed on Kenya’s coat of arms after independence.

After the boom in industrial agriculture and cheaper pyrethrum produced elsewhere, the entire pyrethrum farming industry in Kenya collapsed. The pyrethrum state monopoly only finished paying its debts to producers in 2018, a year after Kenya liberalized the market, fostering competition, production and innovation.

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In Kibett Nakuru County, in 2017, 15,703 farm households received C. cinerariifolium county government seedlings and half a dozen private companies. National Geographic reports that these are already generating income for more than 100,000 rural Kenyans.

“In total, we have distributed 23.3 million seedlings since we started the reactivation of the sector”, Kibett told Nat Geo in a special article on pyrethrum. “Most of us become who we are thanks to that flower. We remember seeing beautiful landscapes covered with white flower leaves. We have done it before and the results were very good. And we have the knowledge. We have the existing infrastructure ”.

Where previously farmers sometimes had to wait months to get paid for their deliveries, the private sector is setting up in a few days a popular mobile payment app that in turn enables farmers to quickly pay for school and other things.

Much of the pyrethrum goes into the manufacture of mosquito-killing incense – pyrethrum coils produced from C. cinerariifolium which are popular bug repellants around the world.

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A University of Nairobi reported field study That pyrethrin-based bug spray managed to kill about 96% of a recent desert locust infestation, a devastating phenomenon that creates unstoppable swarms of flying insects that can devour 300 million pounds of crops in a single day.

Given that much of the world’s pyrethrum is grown in the Horn of Africa, where lobsters are a big problem, it seems like the perfect solution.

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