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Mozambique takes first steps to stem dangerous use of pesticides

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The use of pesticides in Mozambique is leading to illness and even the death of local consumers – and is limiting opportunities for farmers to sell their produce abroad. Campaigns to educate farmers of the dangers of using chemicals are underway, and there are proposals to build testing equipment in Mozambique, but millions of dollars more in funding is needed to effectively address the issue across the country.

Only a small proportion of farmers in Mozambique use pesticides. The most recent World Bank study, conducted in 2014-2015, found that only 3.4% of the country’s 4 million farmers use chemicals on their crops – but the numbers are growing, particularly after a plague hit corn fields in 2017 and 2018.

Pesticide management regulations have been in place since 2009, but “the biggest problem with chemical use isn’t the regulation itself but education,” Carvalho Ecole from Mozambican Institute of Agrarian Investigation (IIAM) told Zitamar News.

Farmers have a poor understanding of the harmful effects of chemical pesticides, leading to incorrect application — and sometimes to crops being harvested and sold with pesticide residue still on them, according to a study conducted in May 2018 by Solidaridad, a civil society organisation focused on transforming production practices among small producers.  Solidaridad examined a variety of fruits and vegetables at different markets in Maputo, Gaza, Sofala, Tete and Niassa.

The studies revealed common residue levels of Deltamethrin of 0.04 mg/kg — well above the maximum levels set by the World Health Organisation of 0.01 mg/kg. The worst levels were registered in cabbage produced in Tica, Nhamatanda district, Sofala, with 0.05 mg/kg.

In Maputo last year at least 28 people were poisoned, two of whom died, after eating cabbage, because the vegetables had been stolen while still in quarantine — demonstrating “the need to educate people to avoid these kind of situations,” Ecole told Zitamar.

Education programmes are in place. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MASA) provides technical assistance to farmers through the Agriculture Extension Services, but the size of the country means not every farmer receives a visit from an extensionist – and many farmers, rather than turning to the AES for help to deal with infestations, will instead “self-medicate,” said Ecole.

Solidaridad is also training farmers in Tete, Manica and Maputo to improve understanding of the sustainable application of pesticides and fertilisers, as well as other good farming principles. “The first round of this training is currently underway in the district of Angónia in Tete province with 20 farmers developing an area of 19 hectares, where Solidaridad is implementing a certified potato seed multiplication pilot project in partnership with the Nzusumire Farmers Association,” said Soldidaridad’s country manager, Francisco Nhanale.

Poor quality seeds, which are more susceptible to disease and insect infestations, is one reason farmers are turning to fertilizers that have been shown to be harmful to health, Nhanale told Zitamar.

Solidaridad hopes by using better seeds and adopting good agricultural practises, farmers can increase the quality and volume of their yield without relying on chemicals. The organisation is now bringing in 38 tonnes of certified potato seeds from South Africa for multiplication.

The organisation, together with the Zambezi Agency, also intends to establish the first local pesticide residue testing laboratory in Mozambique, in the Zambezi Valley. This means that fruit and vegetables will not have to be sent to South Africa for examination, reducing testing time from six weeks to two weeks.

“By making pesticide testing more convenient and affordable, buyers and distributors will be able to learn more about the quality and safety of locally sourced products,” said Nhanale. Once the safety of Mozambican produce is accepted, this should boost export opportunities for farmers.

Funding for the €600,000 laboratory, which will be supplied by the two partners, should be in place soon, Nhanale said.

Solidaridad,  in partnership with MASA and other stakeholders, has also created a food safety standard called Mozambique Good Practices (MozBoPA), that it hopes will be implemented nationwide to ensure Mozambican produce  conforms to international standards for safe food.

Pesticide disposal

While Mozambique also has no facilities for the recycling and disposal pesticides, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has been coordinating the export of obsolete pesticides to be destroyed. 

A total of 284 tonnes of obsolete pesticides were sent to England to be destroyed in July – “although this doesn’t get close to what still remains in country,” Khalid Cassam, who is coordinating the project, told Zitamar.

During the apprehension process 15 places contaminated with pesticides were identified, but the FAO’s project will only treat the two most serious: Muziva in Nicoadala district in Zambézia province, and Matola district in Maputo province, that between them have about 800 tons of contaminated soil. 

Cassam estimates that around $10 million more in funding will be needed in order to remove the remaining pesticides, treat the contaminated soils, design prevention strategies to stop chemical misuse, and to improve legislation. 

Going chemical-free

Some organisations are promoting completely chemical-free agriculture in Mozambique. The Association for Sustainable Development (ABIODES) has been teaching agro-ecological agricultural methods to farmers in Maputo’s ‘Green Zone’ and in the urban area of Nampula. As well as avoiding the use of chemicals in farming, gro-ecological agriculture promotes the importance of biodiversity and crop rotation.

Some of these agro-ecological farmers are now selling amaranthus spinosus, a small, spiny plant, commonly known as ‘tseke’, to South Africa on a small scale. 

There are plans to professionalize and increase the quality of other local produce in order to make it competitive on the international market, Alberto Luis, ABIODES programme coordinator, told Zitamar.

ABIODES is seeking funding to open processing units for local crops, and one of their potential partners is planning to implement a new quality certification for organic produce from the National Institute for Quality Normalization (INNOQ).

Mozambique currently uses the Participatory Guarantee system (SPG) to certify its agro-ecological products – in which every actor along the supply chain guarantees the quality of the product. “This system is used in Brazil and has been adapted to Mozambican context” said Luis. The farmer first signs a term of commitment to follow the 10 rules of the organization, the farmers visit each other to check production and exchange experiences, ABIODES makes verification visits and then an ethics committee – composed of producers, technical assistants, consumers, sellers and the municipality – awards the quality certification to the farmers who meet the standards.  Certificated farmers then qualify to sell their goods through Comorganico, a partner of ABIODES, which sells agro-ecological vegetables in Maputo.

Comorganico buys the vegetables in the field at almost the same price as they are sold at the  market, which is a huge economic advantage for farmers, Comorganico’s Paulo Artur told Zitamar.

However awareness of healthy eating is still in its “discovery and dissemination phase” in Mozambique, Artur said, so the market for organic vegetables is still small and most of their clients are foreigners living in the city. “The number of customers is increasing, but is still very low,” he said.

© 2019, ZITAMAR NEWS. All rights reserved.

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