Global Farmer Field School Platform

Training Extension Workers in Pesticide Risk Reduction – A case for Malawi


Since early 2016, FAO is supporting the Ministry of Agriculture in implementing a project aimed at reducing the risks associated with pesticide risks in agriculture. The project is called Pesticide Risk Reduction and it is funded by the Global Environmental Facility. The project has four technical components one of which is the promotion of safer alternatives to conventional pesticides. As agricultural production is intensifying to meet the ever-increasing demand for food, nutrition and income needs, there is a corresponding increase in the use of pesticides yet extension workers and farmers lack knowledge and skills in minimizing the risks associated with the use of pesticides. Pesticides are a part of inputs for protecting crops and livestock from pests and diseases but they also have socio-economic costs besides the human health and environmental costs. They increase production costs and reduce profits and can result in ill-health if improperly handled.

Under the promotion of safer alternatives to conventional pesticides, the project was the first to initiate farmer field schools under FAO Malawi, which later was integrated into other two nationwide programmes under FAO as an FFS scaling-up initiative. Through the farmer field schools, farmers have been trained in on pesticide risk reduction, recognizing pesticide poisoning, adoption of safer alternatives to pesticides, including integrated pest management. The curriculum also included understanding pesticide labels, identification and selection of lower hazard pesticides, and handling of pesticides during application and disposal of empty containers.

The project embarked on a three-pronged approach to tackling the lack of knowledge and skills among the extension workers and farmers. As a first approach, in 2016, the project started training extension workers as master trainers of the farmer field school (FFS) extension approach. The training integrated pesticide risk reduction so that the extension workers could train farmers after their training. Since then, such training sessions have continued and by April 2022, about 700 extension workers of whom a third are female have been trained.

The second approach was that of training farmers known as community-based facilitators of FFS in the same as extension workers but this later changed. The extension workers are the main trainers to act as their title suggests i.e., master trainers. The project directly trained 1,800 farmers out of whom a third were male farmers.

Thirdly, the project facilitated a nationwide survey on farmer practices in pesticide management, with a focus on hotspots where Highly Hazardous Pesticides are used. The survey covered eight agro-ecological zones of the country aimed at learning the practices that farmers engaged in when applying and disposing of pesticides. It also checked the prevalence of use of banned, restricted or highly hazardous pesticides among smallholder farmers for management decisions in the promotion of safer alternatives by the Pesticides Control Board of Malawi (PCB).  The survey report contributed to the topics for training both the extension workers and the farmers, which are in the areas of integrated pest management as a safer alternative to conventional pesticides, pesticide information associated i.e. understanding them as hazards associated with risks, how to get the hazard information and identification, risk management through handling at all pesticide lifecycles among others

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