Aug 23, 2017 Last Updated 8:04 AM, Aug 23, 2017
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An agriculturalist is suggesting that Malawi adopts the use of Genetically Modified (GMO) maize to deal with pests such as the fall army worm.

The pest invaded fields during the last growing season, destroying crops in their wake.

According to the Agriculture Ministry’s Controller of Agricultural Extension and Technical Services Alfred Changaya, Malawi is still held back from using GMO maize, due to a lack of policies that do not permit the practice.

In an interview with the Malawi News Agency, Changaya cited the example of South Africa where the use of GMO maize has eliminated the stalk borer.

So far the search for a lasting solution to the Fall Army Worm outbreak, which was first reported in Malawi in December 2016, is still underway.

There has however been a longstanding debate on the use of GMO crops in the country.

One of the major criticisms being that as a country we do not have strong regulations and enforcement capacity to monitor the processes.

Researchers believe that despite the criticism, the country is moving forward in terms of commercialising genetically modified crops, with cotton, cowpea and banana now in field trials.

The Biosafety Act was passed in 2002, biosafety regulations in 2007 and the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy was enacted in 2008.

Malawi has a fully functional biosafety regulatory committee that deliberates on applications for trials, and a functional biosafety registrar’s office.

These instruments have made it possible for Malawi to progress with trials of three different genetically modified crops, which are now at different stages, as Malawi gears up for commercializing GM crops.

Bt cotton is at the variety registration trial stage, while Bt cowpea is in its second year of confined field trials (CFT) and virus resistant banana is in its first year of CFTs at proof of concept stage.

The trials are being conducted in nine field sites in all the regions of the country, and they are progressing very well.

Farmers are already asking for the seed, but are being made to understand that there has to be a process for the seed to be released to them. However, their hopes are high after being told that if all goes according to plan, the seed will be released in the next three years.

Genetically Modified Crops are plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering methods. In most cases, the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species.

The government of Malawi has committed itself to providing a platform and systems to interface with the media in order to exchange information and ideas that will improve quality reporting on issues concerning agriculture.

This comes as the world over is experiencing misrepresentation of facts in reporting issues of agriculture due to the advent of the social media.

Speaking in Salima when he opened a four day training for the media on reporting agricultural ethics, Director of Administration in the ministry of Agriculture, irrigation and water development, McCollum Sibande said the media plays a crucial role in the development of agriculture which demands them to do their work professionally.

“As the media you must as much as possible strive to be professional, follow ethics and ensure quality when covering agriculture issues which have a bearing on the country’s development’’.

Sibande was confident that if the media report issues of agriculture in a professional and ethical manner multiple challenges being faced in the agricultural sector can be addressed.

According to Sibande, journalists are currently working hand in hand with government to disseminate agriculture messages.

He however expressed need for more understanding of the issues to broaden their knowledge that will translate to effective communication of agriculture policies to the masses.

Senior Program Manager and Policy Analyst for National Alliance Policy Acceleration Support (NAPAS), Arthur Mabiso added that there is need for evidence based reporting on issues of agriculture in the country to make meaning to the public and the policy holders.

He observed that when facts are twisted the stories create controversies which are not conducive for the public and government.

Vice President for Agriculture Journalists in Malawi, Eunice Ndhlovu said since they started training agriculture journalists in the country it has broaden their understanding on issues of agriculture.

Ndhlovu further said that the media is now able to relate well with stakeholders in agriculture and scientists which has helped them to be ethical and  report professionally on the issues.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) Group has approved a $ 1 million grant from the African Private Sector Assistance (FAPA) fund to the Government of Malawi.

The grant aims to promote both economic developments through infrastructure along the Malawi-Nacala corridor.

It also demonstrates the Bank’s effort to promote inclusive private sector development and SME linkages with large investments.

The project aims to build capacity and facilitate access to markets and financial resources directed to growth oriented agribusiness entrepreneurs in selected rural and semi-rural areas in the Nacala Corridor.

It also seeks to build the capacity of small holder farmers, to catalyze change of mindset in such a way that they gain a better understanding of farming as a business.

FAPA is a multi-donor thematic trust fund that provides grant funding for technical assistance and capacity building to support.

The FAPA portfolio includes projects designed to improve the business environment, strengthen financial systems, build private sector infrastructure, promote trade and develop micro, small and medium enterprises

The Governments of Japan and Austria and the African Development Bank, are active contributors to the fund, which to date has provided over $51 million to 65 projects.

A majority of people in Malawi depend on agricultural produce as a source of food and also a source of income.

Many sell their harvests so to help their families financially at a time when the economy of the country is in a bad state.

Representatives of the Agriculture ministry are revealing that the fall army worms that have hugely affected the Southern African region may affect the final crop estimates.

Demand for mushroom is growing in Mzuzu City, with supply continuing to go down.

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