Malawi’s food security in the 2018/19 growing season faces new threats as over 20 metric tonnes (MT) of expired pesticides were stolen from a warehouse and have now flooded the market, The Nation has established.
Pesticide Control Board acting registrar Misheck Soko confirmed the development, saying about 15 to 20 metric tonnes (MT) of pesticides, namely Super Guard Dust and Skana Super, went missing at Smallholder Farmers Fertiliser Revolving Fund of Malawi (SFFRFM) warehouse as they were waiting to be transported to Uganda to be destroyed.
Already, there were fears that the 2018 harvest would drop by 15 percent due to a dry spell, and an average 30 percent loss in postharvest estimates, but the expired pesticides on the market may worsen the situation, with experts observing that the situation may reduce further the harvests, besides posing environmental hazards.
But in an interview, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Grey Nyandule Phiri played down the impact of the presence of the expired pesticides on the market, saying it would only affect individual farmers at household level.
In an interview, Soko said the pesticide Super Guard Dust expired three years ago while Skana Super expired 10 years ago. He said government discovered the missing of the pesticides a couple of months ago.
A snap survey shows that the expired pesticides are selling at K500 a bottle, about K600 cheaper than the normal market price.
Soko warned that any Super Guard Dust in powder form and Skana Super in a shakers container are expired and should not be used.
He said the country sent the expired liquid pesticide to Switzerland and Sweden to be destroyed, but the powdered pesticides that were meant to go by road to Uganda were stolen.
Said Soko: “For some years, we have not imported Super Guard Dust pesticide into the country. We also have not imported Skana Super pesticide in shaker bottles. The only authorised Skana Super at the moment is in sachets.
“We are calling on all farmers not to use the said pesticide because they would not be effective.”
So far, he said, no arrest has been made since the discovery of the theft.
On his part, Nyandule Phiri said the theft took place a long time ago and might have no impact on the national food security, but he said it might impact on individual households that used the expired pesticide.
“We have several companies that are selling good pesticides,” he said.
Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) president Alfred Kapichira Banda accused government of lacking seriousness in managing chemical farm inputs which, he said, puts farmers at a disadvantage.
He said: “Government is to blame. We believe government does not help us in terms of quality control for farm inputs.”
Kapichira Banda observed that smallholder farmers lose close to 50 percent of their harvest to weevils.
He said the low standards are not only seen in pesticides, but even fertiliser, saying: “Shop owners are just falsifying the expiry dates for pesticides and when it comes to fertiliser, the products are full of sand. When we buy the pesticide from Chipata in Zambia, the quality is good and the pesticides are very effective. Even the quality of fertiliser from Zambia is much better than in Malawi.”
Kapichira Banda said Malawian farmers are heavily affected by the poor quality of pesticides because most of them keep their maize in sacks and not granaries as was the case in the past.
“Half of the poor farmers’ harvest is lost to weevils despite them applying pesticides. This is how poor standards of pesticides is affecting poor farmers. Government is to blame,” he said.
In an interview, environmental expert David Mkwambisi said the expired pesticides will not only affect farmers at household level, but also at national level.
He added the products would also affect the environment.
Storage, selling and re-labelling of expired chemical products is an offence under the Pesticides Act and the Environmental Act.
According to a Journal of Food, Agriculture and Environment, expired pesticides have far-reaching consequences on the environment as they contaminate water and possibly affect aquatic life and the ecosystem in general.n