Invasive weed holds promise for pest control

Mexican Marigold

Students extract the useful substance from mexican marigold

By David Njagi

That smelly weed, mexican marigold, long thought to be a seedy farm colonizer, may just be what you have been looking for to rid your home of crawlies.
A group of five students from PC Kinyanjui Technical Institute in Riruta, Nairobi, have extracted a soluble oil from the weed, that can instantly kill a wide range of domestic bugs.
Through a chemical process that starts with crashing leaf samples obtained from the weed in a petri dish to the adding of ethanol, to separating the oil bonds in the leaves, to the collection of the final product, one cannot help but admire the skills of budding genius.
Led by applied biology student, John Wanjohi, all what is needed to complete the process is distilled water, a bundle of the mexican marigold leaves, ethanol and heat to filter the new found insecticide from its crude source.
According to Wanjohi, a kilo of the mexican marigold leaves is able to generate 20 mls of the oil, which can be mixed and sprayed manualy at the targeted pest ridden site.
“Take for instance a mosquitoe breeding site,” explains Wanjohi. “All you need to do is to pour the oil in a hand held sprayer and apply it manually. Our laboratory tests indicated that none of the insect’s kind will survive.”
Wanjohi is hopeful that the technology can be developed for commercial production of the oil, which he says would fetch Ksh. 100 for a 200 ml unit of the product.
Compared to the market price of insecticide in Kenya’s retail market, the technology can have a competitive edge. For instance, a can of Mortein Doom of 400 mls at the Tuskys supermarket along Muindi Mbingu street costs Ksh. 425.
But there is a depressing edge. The International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) says the institution can only support such innovation by offering attachment to students.
According to Carol Akal from the director’s office at ICIPE, the insitution does not have a way of reviewing such technologies since its role does is not in manufacturing.
The National Council for Science and Technology (NCST) however says it is keen on supporting such creativity through its Young Innovators Club.
According to NCST secretary Prof. Shaukat Abdulrazak, a two year old Ksh. 320 million Science and Technology Innovation Fund awaits the ingenuity of Wanjohi and his kind, and has so far supported ten innovation projects in Kenya.
“Under this Fund we have created another to look specifically at the women researchers,” says Prof Abdulrazak. “But also under that we have created a Fund for young innovators. We have received 99 projects that are waiting to be reviewed by a panel of experts.”
He however cautions young innovators to patent their creations to shield them from the appetite of profit making business people.

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About seventysixthstreet

Science and human rights journalist, Kenya
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