Desperate farmers using rat poison on plants

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Farmers in Malawi are so desperate in their battle against the destructive Fall Armyworm that they are putting rat poison on their crops.

So far all efforts to contain the pest, which is threatening harvests right across Africa, have failed and farmers are facing the prospects of losing all their crops.

Monica Benjamin, 47, lives in a village in the Nsanje area in the southernmost part of Malawi and helps her elderly mother who is a member of a five hectare Christian Aid irrigation scheme initially funded by the Scottish government.

Thirty-seven woman and 43 men are part of the scheme which is soon to be extended by a further five hectares.

She lives in a typical village which is far from the main road and so lifestyles are very simple.

Monica explained: “It is a village life. We only eat what we can produce on our family plots and our staple food is Nsima made from maize.

“We have a little bit of protein but this comes from the livestock that we keep, not something that we would buy.

‘‘We rarely slaughter a goat. What we can afford to slaughter are chicken and ducks, but not goats. We would maybe have a goat for Christmas,” she said.

Monica says that it is only since she started to work on the solar powered irrigation scheme that life has really changed for her.

“We are now able to have salad and vegetables with our meals. I have to take care of my dietary needs first, dietary needs are a priority. We take produce to home first.”

However that food production and harvest is currently under threat by the Fall Armyworms, the larval life stage of a fall armyworm moth.

It is regarded as a pest and can damage and destroy a wide variety of crops.

Monica said the past growing season has been very difficult for them because of this pest.

She added: “People had to replant three times and it has reduced their overall production by more than half. It attacks crops at an early stage. Even if we are planting maize it is still attacked. We usually harvest three 50kg bags but because of the pest we have harvested nothing from the scheme after the most recent planting.

“The bug eats the leaves and the cob. Its like HIV of plants where people are just trying different remedies.

“At first the committee talked to us and we contributed money as scheme members and bought pesticides, but it didn’t work.

‘‘Out of desperation other people were using washing powder to apply, and even Neem, which is like a very bitter aloe vera.

“There was a also an incident in the East Bank where the people were applying paprika and other people were even applying rat poison. They were doing that out of desperation. Children were kept away from the area in case they plucked a leaf. In this village though they didn’t use rat poison,” she added.