• Crispin Chishimba

Malaria in Agricultural Settings: Impacts on Productivity in Mozambique

Mozambique is one of the most endemic countries in the world for malaria. Vector control is a critical intervention in reducing malaria transmission, however, its impact on agricultural productivity has not been well documented.

A recent study sought to assess the effect of malaria on maize and sugar production in two districts of Mozambique. The results indicated that there was a significant negative impact of malaria on maize and sugar production. This blog post seeks to explain why the private sector can benefit significantly by implementing an integrated vector control programme in areas of high-density agriculture.

Malaria is a big problem in Mozambique. It is estimated that there are about 10-15% of malaria cases in the general population and up to 30% of cases in some agricultural areas. The disease has a significant impact on sugar cane and maize production.

The agriculture sector is a mainstay of the country’s economy, accounting for approximately 79% of total employment and contributing an annual average of 18% to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) [3]. The sector also plays an essential role in women’s livelihoods, as 90% of the economically active female population earns a living from agriculture. Moreover, women constitute 61% of the agricultural labour force.

Those that contract the disease can often be ill 2 -3 times a year, and the number of days off each time can range between 2 and 4.5 days each episode. The impact is magnified employees tend to be more ill at times of major activity, and the conditions mean that many will be off at the same time. This, for instance, can greatly reduce the harvesting capacity.

The upshot of all of this is that it is in the interests of the agricultural producers to implement an integrated vector control plan to dramatically reduce the cases of malaria in the local population.

Unfortunately, producers will attempt to implement such a plan, but often they buy the wrong insecticides, do not train their operators, do not identify the breeding sites of the mosquitoes, do not observe seasonal patterns, and have no discernible monitoring to measure the impact and efficacy of their programme. Apart from failing to make an impact on malaria control and productivity, it can be a huge waste of money.

It is imperative that a proper survey is conducted by vector control experts to establish the sources of the mosquitoes. In an agricultural setting, there is always standing water because of irrigation, or open water sources, and in these pools, mosquitoes lay their eggs and the larvae develop before hatching and forming clouds of malaria-transmitting insects.

Once all the standing and stagnant water pools have been identified they can be sprayed with a larvicide (harmless to humans) that creates a tension in the water surface that does not let the mosquito eggs sink into the water to turn into larvae, and any existing larvae suffocate as they fail to breach the meniscus and cannot get the air that they need.

The vector control experts will train local employees to be effective spray operatives. They will educate them to map out all the standing and stagnant pools of water and demonstrate the need for accuracy in dispensing.

Studies have shown that an effective programme of larvicide applications can reduce the number of mosquitoes by up to 85%, but the other elements of an integrated approach must be also implemented, such as the widespread distribution of long-lasting insecticide-impregnated bed netting, personal protection insect repellent lotions, indoor residual spraying (kills insects that land on the sprayed surfaces) and fogging in areas that are difficult to spray directly onto the surface.

Regent Laboratories experts can provide not just the local expertise to carry out the surveys, design a programme, conduct operative training, and provide community education, but they will also supply the insecticides best suited to the environment, the spraying and fogging equipment with the right pressure and nozzle settings, and essential protective clothing. They will also do the follow up monitoring to identify any issues that might be impacting the road to eradication of malaria in the area.