Government imports banned pesticide


Government has imported a harmful chemical that can cause birth defects and deaths in human beings, in its frantic efforts to get rid of fall armyworms that are destroying hectares of irrigated maize crop.

Government said, last month, that it is purchasing 10,000 litres of dursban to kill the fall armyworms.

An inquiry by The Daily Times reveals that the pesticide, dursban, was banned from the market alongside another pesticide called diazinon because of health concerns for humans and wildlife.


The Environmental Protection Agency of the United States issued the ban that only allowed the chemical to be produced during its phase out until the end of year 2000.

An article we have sourced from titled “Why Banned Toxic Substances Diazinon & Dursban are Still In Use Today” states: “This chemical is known to cause human and animal birth defects in many areas of the human body including the brain, nervous system, teeth, eyes, ears, nipples and genitals.

“It can cause profound growth and mental retardation when pregnant mothers are exposed. It also appears to cause lower birth weights of infants if mothers are exposed before and during pregnancy, and this is associated with lower IQs.”


But Agriculture Ministry spokesperson, Osborne Tsoka, said in an interview yesterday that dursban was only banned to prevent the pests from building chemical resistance due to its overuse.

“When we removed dursban from the market, we replaced it with cypermythrine which proved not effective to the fall armyworms from the initial trial. So, we went back to dursban which has a broad spectrum and it can wipe out the fall armyworms,” Tsoka said.

He, however, said with the help of experts from Brazil, the ministry is exploring other environmentally friendly means as the chemical is only used in the interim.

Senior Lecturer in the Department of Environmental Chemistry, Physics and Biochemical Sciences at The Polytechnic of the University of Malawi, Dr Chikumbusko Chiziwa Kaonga, said while there is no ban on the pesticide in Malawi, the chemical interferes with the transmission of impulses/ messages in nerves.

“Dursban is a trade name for a common pesticide called Chloropyrifos. It is in a class of chemicals called organophosphates (meaning compounds with carbon and phosphate which is same with a pesticide called dimethoate). In Malawi, it is true that we still use dursban mostly as Chloropyrifos and there has been no ban yet.

“One thing to take note of is that all pesticides are designed to kill, as such, they all have the potential to harm human beings. There are others that are more dangerous, as such they get banned as was the case with dursban in USA,” Kaonga said.

He also recommended awareness campaigns for farmers to follow proper instructions when applying pesticides as well as enforcing a ban on selling of pesticides in non-designated places.

The Pharmacy, Medicines and Poisons Board referred us to the Pesticides Control Board. But we could not get through on their numbers.

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