By Moses Magadza
LILONGWE, APRIL 2 – The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Malawi is developing an agro-chemical guide manual to enable the Malawi Prison Service to safely use agrochemicals that include pesticides and herbicides on its farms. With financial support from the Norwegian Embassy in Malawi, UNODC is helping the Malawi Prison Service to boost crop production on four main prison farms in different parts of the country.
As production increases, farm managers and prisoners working on these farms are also using more chemicals to control pests and diseases that affect both crops and livestock. The new manual, therefore, seeks to protect the environment from the effects of improper use of pesticides and herbicides while ensuring the safety of people that apply the chemicals – mostly prisoners.
Davies Chikopa, an agronomist hired to support Malawi prison farms, is spearheading development of the manual, which is almost complete and is expected to be launched soon. The manual comes with colourful illustrative photographs and biological information around pests and crop diseases while providing various options to farm managers on how to respond to major pest and disease problems of selected cereal and legume crops.
It is user-friendly for people in the field, especially Farm Managers and Agriculture Extension Officers.
“For example, if a problem related to a particular pest is noted, the manual offers a picture and succinctly explains the problem while providing a list of chemicals that have been approved by the Pest Control Board of Malawi. It also offers guidelines in terms of dilution recommendations,” Chikopa explained.
Experts who include Professor Kenneth Wilson of the Lancaster Environment Centre at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom say pests continue to pose huge challenges in agricultural production all over the world.
Wilson says in recent years, pests that include army-worms have wreaked havoc in southern Africa. Staple cereal crops and pasture grasses have been razed to the ground, exacerbating food shortages and devastating livestock production in a region already prone to floods and droughts.
Malawi has not been spared. Wilson says at least 9000 hectares of maize have been lost to army-worm in recent years.
Chikopa concurs and says: “The impact of pests can vary. Losses of crops can be between 40-60 percent. That is very significant when every grain counts.”
UNODC has procured a lot of chemicals for use on prison farms that are being supported. They include at least four different types of insecticides and herbicides. Some of the insecticides are used in storage facilities to control pests.
Expectations are that the manual, will support efforts to build the capacity of agricultural officers to respond to problems that require use of pesticides.
The manual will have over 150 pages and focus on a few crops that UNODC is helping Malawi prison farms to grow. These include maize, cow peas, cassava, pigeon peas, beans, soya beans and and vegetables.
Chikopa said the manual puts a premium on safe use of agrochemicals.
The development of this manual is in line with Sustainable Development Goal 3, which enjoins Member States to substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination.
UNODC will work closely with Farmers Organisation Limited and Pesticide Control Board of Malawi to develop the manual.
– Moses Magadza is a Communications Officer for UNODC Regional Office for Southern Africa.