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Herbicides threaten edible weeds in Zambia — that may be bad news for local food security

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The usage of herbicides – substances that management undesirable crops – is on the rise throughout Africa. This pattern has been referred to by some researchers because the “herbicide revolution”. This pattern is pushed by low cost herbicides flooding into the continent from Asia and international agrochemical corporations discovering Africa’s rising markets. Additionally, rural wages have risen resulting from rural-urban migration and structural transformation.

Herbicides might assist to lift yields, thereby contributing to meals safety. Additionally they scale back the massive labour burden related to handbook weeding, which is usually finished by girls and youngsters. Research counsel that herbicides can scale back labour use for weeding by 90%. A examine in Zambia means that herbicide can scale back labour use for weeding from as much as 70 to 10 days per hectare.

Nonetheless, herbicides may additionally have destructive results on environmental and human well being, notably when substances aren’t fastidiously dealt with and no protecting gear is used. Unintentional pesticide poisoning kills 11,000 individuals yearly, in keeping with a worldwide examine.

Within the quest to evaluate these trade-offs one side has obtained restricted consideration: the position of edible weeds, which could be key components of rural meals baskets, but are focused by herbicides.

In a brand new examine, we explored the position of edible weeds in rural diets in Zambia and the way herbicides have an effect on their consumption. Edible weeds are an integral a part of the every day diets of many Zambian farm households, specifically through the “starvation months” and through droughts, which is able to grow to be extra extreme with the local weather disaster. The herbicide revolution reduces the supply of edible weeds, which can undermine meals and vitamin safety as an vital a part of households’ diets is turning into underneath menace.

It’s as much as particular person farmers and societies at massive to resolve how a lot they wish to use herbicides. However knowledgeable choices must be made acknowledging all potential trade-offs, together with these concerning edible weeds and meals and vitamin safety.

Nutritious and helpful

For our examine we surveyed or interviewed 158 randomly chosen households in rural elements of jap and southern Zambia the place most households rely of farming. We additionally used qualitative strategies reminiscent of discipline walks, focus group discussions, and stakeholder interviews.

All of the households collected edible weeds from their fields. A very powerful species have been spiny amaranth, nalta jute and crops from the aster household. Edible weeds present vital vitamins. Amaranthus hybridus, which is consumed by 88% of all households, comprises excessive ranges of vitamin A, iron, zinc, and protein. Bidens pilosa (or black-jack) is steadily utilized in Zambia to deal with anaemia.

Learn extra:
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Edible weeds are consumed by households no matter wealth or the age and gender of the family head, underscoring how embedded they’re within the space’s meals tradition. Within the starvation months between December and March, after the earlier yr’s harvest has dwindled, many households consumed edible weeds each day.

Edible weeds are largely eaten contemporary but in addition preserved by way of drying. Between one and 5 forms of these crops have been preserved by 87% of the households. Practically the entire households that preserved edible weeds did so to make sure future meals safety. The edible weed referred to as “bondwe” from the leafy Amaranthaceae household can also be traded and bought in supermarkets within the capital, Lusaka.

Households’ experiences

Herbicide use in Zambia is slowly however steadily climbing. In keeping with a nationwide survey by the Zambian Indaba Agricultural Coverage Analysis Institute, 28% of Zambian farmers use herbicides – up from 14% in 2015.

Herbicides are particularly designed to eradicate weeds. In distinction to handbook weeding, herbicides are much less selective and permit “clear weeding” the place all weeds are destroyed. That’s why elevated use of herbicides might trigger edible weeds to vanish from meals baskets.

Households within the examine space eat quite a lot of edible weeds.
Alysha Vehre

We discovered that the rise of herbicides, as measured by the share of plots sprayed, has not but affected consumption of weeds. Households utilizing herbicides can nonetheless entry edible weeds from non-sprayed plots and from outdoors their farms.

Nonetheless, households which have already been utilizing herbicides for a while devour fewer edible weeds and plenty of households themselves perceived trade-offs between herbicide use and edible weed availability. Near 50% of the respondents perceived that fewer edible weeds have been out there.


Whereas edible weeds haven’t vanished fully from the world we studied, it’s clear that their numbers are dropping. Within the coming years, households must manoeuvre the trade-offs between herbicides and edible weeds. It’s doable, as an example, that herbicides might contribute to greater agricultural manufacturing for these households – and that the extra revenues from elevated harvests could also be used to purchase nutritious meals and counterbalance the lack of edible weeds.

No matter particular person households resolve, it’s essential that they’re given all of the details about these trade-offs to allow them to collectively make knowledgeable choices.

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