Abiti Joyce Befu, MG 66 and Most Excellent Grand Achiever-MEGA 1; Nganga Maigwaigwa, PSC (RTD); Alhajj Mufti Jean-Philippe LePoisson, SC (RTD); the Most Paramount Native Authority Mzee Mandela and I, Malawi’s only Mohashoi, are still here in Nkhota Kota because we have to.
We have to be here. And we will be here until next week. We are still here because there is a lot to see, admire and marvel at. Although we have been here several times before, we had never sat down under the tree where David ‘Mwalawamoyo’ Livingstone is said to have convinced Mlozi to stop colluding with our chiefs to sell our ancestors to Arabs. This time we have visited the place and sat where Mlozi sat or squatted and listened to Mwalawamoyo’s pleas. We had never been to Mpoto Lagoon but this time we have even bought fish from that area. We never passed through the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, but this time we drove through the rugged road to Mtunthama, the seat of the mighty Kamuzu Academy. We had never been to (M)Lozi school, this time we have.
On our way to Lozi school we stopped to talk to three female farmers who were practising conservation agriculture, also known internationally as no-till or low- till agriculture and locally as mtayajembe or mtayakhasu. We were interested in the chemicals they were applying to the soil to kill weeds or prevent weeds from even emerging from the ground.
“This must be expensive,” Jean-Philippe remarked as he read the instructions on the label of the glyphosate bottle that he had asked one of the female farmers to show us.
“It is not very expensive,” said one middle aged farmer.
“Not very expensive if we compare with the labour required to clear this field using hoes,” another farmer said.
“In addition, the grass we kill with these weed killers is used to cover the soil and therefore preserving and conserving moisture in the soil,” the third farmer said.
“And our yields are higher because of these weed killers!” the first farmer said.
“I see,” Jean-Philippe said, “do your extension officers also tell you about the dangers associated with these herbicides?”
“They do,” the second farmer responded. “We know that herbicides are like any other pesticide. If used wrongly, such as in higher than recommended doses, they can destroy crops and animal life, including livestock.”
“How about their effect on your health?” Nganga asked.
“None at all,” the first farmer responded.
“I hear glyphosate causes cancer if inhaled or in contact with bare skin,” said Jean-Philippe.
“We have never heard about that,” the third farmer said.
“Anyway, are you trying to stop us from using the herbicides? Will you give us money to pay for clearing the fields? Will you?” the first asked angrily.
“No. Not at all,” Jean-Philippe said.
“Can you then leave us alone?” the first farmer commanded.
“We are leaving,” I said as I beckoned the team to get back into our AFORD Neverest.
“Tell your government and extension officers that sellers of these herbicides are contravening the law,” Jean-Philippe said.
“Which law? Whose law?”
Jean Philippe explained: “The Pesticides Act or something like that prohibits the sale of pesticides and herbicides without proper labelling and written instructions in English and major local languages. The Medicines and Poisons Act also criminalises the selling of medicines and poisonous substances like pesticides and herbicides without clearly indicating, in written English and major local languages, the negative effects of that poison.”
“But the extension officers do explain in our language,” the first woman said.
“But the law says those instructions, counter-indications, and warnings should be available in English and local languages here on the bottle so that you can read them on your own,” Jean-Philippe argued, adding, “However, your glyphosate bottle has instructions in English and Swahili. Somewhere we saw herbicides with instructions in English and Afrikaans!”
“Who said Swahili or Afrikaans is not our local language?” the second woman asked zelezally.