Pest management

In conventional farming, cotton is considered a crop that is highly sensitive to pest attack. Large quantities of synthetic pesticides are sprayed to keep them under control. In organic farming, however, the use of synthetic pesticides is not allowed.

The organic approach adopts a completely different approach: the aim is first and foremost to prevent pests from even becoming a problem by establishing a diverse and balanced farm ecosystem and by monitoring pest populations carefully. Organic pest management strategies include:

Crop rotation: Monocultures provide potential cotton pests with abundant food sources, causing their populations to increase rapidly. Furthermore, the use of pesticides against major pests can result in secondary pests (Internal link) becoming a problem. Crop rotation, however, helps to keep pests at a low level by establishing a natural balance.

Mixed cultivation: Has a similar effect to crop rotation but on a smaller area within the same cultivation period and the same field.

Promotion of natural enemies: Not using pesticides and diversifying crops benefits natural enemies of cotton pests such as birds, ladybirds, beetles, spiders, parasitic wasps, bugs and ants. They help the farmer keep pest attacks at tolerable levels. Providing suitable habitats for natural enemies such as ladybirds or lacewings can help to increase and establish their populations.

Lady birds

Trap crops: Some cotton pests prefer crops like maize, sunflower, okra (lady finger), sorghum, pigeon pea or hibiscus to cotton. By growing these crops along with cotton as a trap crop, the cotton crop is spared. In Tanzania, experience has shown that sunflower is an efficient trap crop for the American bollworm. In West Africa, the use of okra as a trap crop shows satisfying results in fighting bollworms and other cotton pests. In addition to their positive impact in terms of pest control, these crops can be harvested and thus contribute to diversified production systems.

Ocra as trap crop
Okra as trap crop

Natural pesticides: If preventive measures are not sufficiently efficient and pest populations exceed the economic threshold, a number of natural pesticides can be used in organic cotton cultivation. Some of these are: neem spray, prepared from neem kernels (Azadirachta indica) extract, effective against sucking pests, jassids, bollworms and thrips; pyrethrum, prepared from powdered flower heads or liquid extracts of chrysanthemum, effective against red cotton bug, cutworms, grasshoppers; botanical mixtures, combinations of extracts from different plants such as castor, thorn apple, lantana, custard apple, sweet potato leaves, tomato leaves, ginger, chilly, gliricidia, marigold, etc.

Neem tree (Mali 2006)
Neem tree (Mali, 2006)
Neem grain (Mali, 2004)
Neem grain (Mali, 2006)

Further reading:

Organic Cotton Crop Guide (Eyhorn et al. 2005)

OISAT - Organic Pest Management in Cotton

ATTRA Organic Cotton Production


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