Plant Science Post

An End to Weeding By Hand

November 4, 2015
Farmer Livelihood

Weeds are one of the biggest threats to food security in sub-Saharan Africa. They compete with crops for nutrients, space, light and water and can reduce yields significantly, if not controlled (see table below).

Yield losses due to weeds

Crop Loss to weeds
Sorghum 40-80%
Common bean 50%
Wheat 50-80%
Rice 50-100%
Maize 55-90%
Cassava 90%

Source: CropLife Foundation ‘Solving Africa’s Weed Problem

To avoid these crop losses, smallholder farmers have traditionally spent long hours pulling, slashing and hoeing weeds by hand. It is backbreaking and time consuming work. For example, it is estimated that hand weeding one hectare of sorghum, a staple crop in sub-Saharan Africa, can take 324 hours of labor. And it is women who do more than 90 percent of this grueling work.

In addition to their farm responsibilities, women also have prime responsibility for maintaining the household and caring for children and elderly relatives, which makes it difficult to find the time to remove weeds before they over-run and ruin crops.

“Hoes with short handles make weeding easier and faster, but they give us backache. There is nothing we can do about that, because if we just complain and don’t work, we’ll starve!” Women’s group, Zambia

However, crop protection products can help rural woman beat back weeds and increase production on their farms. Applying herbicides is more effective than hand weeding, less time consuming and more affordable than hiring farm laborers.

In Africa, herbicides have been widely-adopted on government-run farms and large plantations of cash crops like coffee, cotton, sugarcane, cocoa and tea. But less than five percent of small-scale farms use herbicides. A lack of awareness, access to finance and training is creating a huge obstacle between herbicide adoption and African farmers.

Organizations like CropLife Africa Middle East are working to train small-holder farmers on the safe use of herbicides to help them grow more food, and liberate female farmers from the back-breaking work of hand weeding. See one of CropLife Africa Middle East’s major training projects – Cocoa in West Africa – here.