Termites: a farmer’s friend

Soil fertility in sub-Saharan Africa is under serious threat, but recent research carried out at the University of Sydney reveals that ants and termites could help avert the crisis.

Termites create tunnels that enable plants to access groundwater more easily.
Termites create tunnels that enable plants to access groundwater more easily.

Poor soil fertility massively reduces crop yield and contributes to food shortages across the region. Local farmers have reported a 15-25 percent decline in their harvest a year and many villages across Zimbabwe are already dependent on food aid.

The research carried out by scientists in Australia shows that creatures like ants and termites, once considered pests, could actually prove invaluable for improving soil fertility. The insects dig tunnels that enable plants to have better access to underground water sources. They also produce a nitrogen-rich bacteria which is ploughed into the soil through their saliva and faeces. Studies show that land treated with ants and termites showed a 36 percent increase in wheat production.

The benefit of using termites to increase crop production is not news for many African farmers. In Western Africa farmers lay wooden planks in the soil to attract termites and in Zambia farmers use the soil produced in termite nests as top soil.

In Zimbabwe many farmers plant fruit and vegetables on termite nests and report a significant increase in yields compared to planting elsewhere. Crops such as okra, pumpkins, sweet sorghum and late-season maize, which require good water and nutrient supply, are grown almost exclusively on termite nests in some parts of the country.

By integrating termites and ants into their agricultural systems, farmers who depend on agriculture for their income and diet are developing low cost sustainable practices that strengthen crop production while maximizing resources.

Post published in: Environment

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