Agriculture authorities in Malawi are putting in place measures to detect and control a possible recurring outbreak of fall army worms in the forthcoming growing season.
The 2016/2017 growing season saw several parts of the country being affected by the pest which are resistant to normal pesticides for similar pests.
Recent international news reports are indicating that Zambia has detected another hit of the pests in the forthcoming agriculture season.
Last year, before hitting Malawi, the pests started with Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique prompting agriculture experts from the three countries and Malawi to hold several meeting strategising on how to eradicate them.
The worms are feared to be a drawback in food security which has been making a positive impact on the local economy.
Speaking to Capital FM, Spokesperson in the Ministry of Agriculture Osborne Tsoka says they are basing their preparedness on the country’s pest experience from the previous growing season.
The public is pushing the police to finalise investigations into the cause of a fire that gutted the Ministry of Agriculture offices in Lilongwe five months ago.
The incident occurred at a time a presidential commission had just concluded an inquiry into the suspicious events surrounding the purchase of maize from Zambia by ADMARC.
The commission had recommended that the Minister of Agriculture then, George Chaponda, be probed further for suspected involvement in the scandal.
The wing of the building that housed offices of Chaponda and the principal Secretary, Erica Maganga, was the most affected in the inferno.
Speaking to Capital FM on the streets of Blantyre CBD one Mbayani resident stressed on the need for the case to be finalised because the public has been waiting for too long.
Another woman from Machinjiri demanded that the law enforcers conclude this case and also the other cases pilling up.
She added that the time has come for the police to be professional and not be influenced outside forces when executing their duties.
Though the police instituted an investigation to establish the cause of the fire, the law enforcers say they have not concluded the investigations.
A few weeks, National Police Spokesperson James Kadadzera said the case would take long to conclude as it is a complex one and needs thorough investigations before making a conclusion.
Chaponda is currently answering charges in court, he was charged with two criminal counts of misusing public office and possession of foreign currency without the lawful justification.
Last week, the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) lined up 22 witnesses to testify against Chaponda and two others in the case relating to the Zambian maize import transactions.
Chaponda and his alleged accomplices-Rashid Tayub, director of Transglobe Produce Export Limited and Grace Mijiga-Mhango, a businessperson and chairperson of the Grain Traders and Processors Association of Malawi (GTPA) were arrested by ACB last month for their alleged roles in the dubious purchase of maize from Zambia.
In the matter, there are nine lawyers with the State legal team led by Matemba assisted by ACB principal prosecution officers Macmillan Chakhala and Imran Saidi.
On the other side, Chaponda is being represented by private practice lawyers Tamando Chokotho, Madaliso Mmeta, Frank Mbeta and Jai Banda while Tayub has Jai Banda, Lusungu Gondwe and Madalo Banda.
Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrate (CRM) Simeon Mdeza had set August 9, 10, 11 and 14 for trial, but it failed due to the Judiciary support staff strike that lasted for at least four weeks.
The case has since being adjourned to September 14 2017 after the defence counsel objected to the prosecution’s intentions to make an application to consolidate the case into one charge sheet.
Challenges being faced in the use of Cypermetherin to combat the fall army worm have forced Malawi’s ministry of agriculture to find an alternative.
According to officials at the ministry, they are now using a chemical known as Dursban.
The worms which have wrecked havoc in some parts of the country have proved to be destructive if not dealt with a sense of urgency.
The switch is said to be due to the fact that the chemical Cypermethrin has become less effective in some areas.
Speaking at Kambwiri Sele Irrigation Scheme in Salima at the start of a five day media tour, George Lungu who is Principal Agriculture Officer in the ministry of Agriculture responsible for Crop Protection said Cypermethrin has become resistant for the two years it has been used.
The aim of the tour is to visit irrigation schemes which have been affected by the fall army worms in the districts of Salima, Balaka and Chikwawa.
"We have realised that Cypermethrin is now not working that is after some farmers reported that it's no longer having any impact in their farms, so ,as the ministry we have decided to change Cypmetherin to Dursban starting this farming season," Lungu explained.
Lungu went on further to say that the ministry has procured 10,000 litres of Dursban pesticide which will be distributed to farmers throughout the country.
The European Union also provided 16,000 litres of the pesticide to help eliminate the pests.
“As a ministry we think that this procurement is more than enough to address the problem we have at hand,"
“The new chemical will assist farmers even better, but just like Cypermetherin, we wil have to change it every two years as it will become resistant,” the principal secretary added.
One of the lead farmers at the scheme, Lezita Banda said that the fall army worm is now becoming difficult to manage as the current pesticide seems to not be working.
She said they have discovered other ways of dealing with the worm by using traditional medicine which have proven to be more effective.
The fall army worms have among other crops in Salima district destroyed maize, millet, rice, pepper and sugarcane.
The tour was organised by the ministry of agriculture with financial assistance from the Feed the Future's Strengthening Agriculture and Nutrition Extension (SANE) project.
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.