OUT AND ABOUT: From right, Senior Superintendent Kalirani J.C. Mwale, Officer in Charge of Kasungu Prison; Commissioner Clement Kainja, who is in charge of Farms and Industries under the Malawi Prison Service; Dr. Henry Ndindi, UNODC Project Coordinator in Malawi; and senior Malawi Prison Service officers walk through the UNODC-supported Kasungu Prison Farm to assess the maize crop last week. 


KASUNGU, MALAWI - In Malawi, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is helping the Malawi Prison Service (MPS) to boost crop production on its prison farms in order to improve nutrition - a major challenge affecting the country's approximately 15,000 inmates.

During the 2018-2019 crop farming season, UNODC, with financial assistance from the Norwegian Embassy in Malawi, supported three farms of the Chitedze, Mpyupyu and Kasungu Prisons, respectively, with inputs that included seeds, fertilizer, agro-chemicals and general agriculture production. Additionally, UNODC is providing agriculture technical support to the Malawi Prison Service in scaling up crop production. The project contributes to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2, which aims to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition, achieve food security and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030.

Last week, nearly three months after germination of crops planted on these farms, Commissioner Clement Kainja, who is in charge of Farms and Industries under the MPS, embarked on crop assessment visits to the supported farms. At the time of this visit, Kasungu Prison (which has 100 hectares of arable land) had 453 inmates, more than double its capacity. The farm, like most parts of the country, relies on rainfall for its agriculture production. With support from UNODC, it put 75 hectares of land under maize production for the 2018-2019 farming season. This represents a marked increase given that during the 2017-2018 farming season, it had 49 hectares of land producing maize, enabling it to harvest 175 metric tonnes of maize. In addition to maize, Kasungu has put 2.5 hectares under soya beans, four hectares of land under cassava, and 3.5 hectares of land under sweet potatoes production.

Senior Superintendent Mwale explained: "Last season we cultivated 49 hectares of maize and the yield was about 175 tonnes, which was lower than expected due to a drought which affected our performance. This year, our projection is 350 metric tonnes, which is beyond our consumption requirements. We recently sent 100 bags of maize to Lilongwe (Maula) Prison. Over the past two months, we sent 200 bags of maize Nkhotakota Prison and another 300 bags of maize to Dedza Prison. We now cultivate more than needed and we can therefore support other prisons."

Commissioner Kainja says that the Kasungu Prison Farm has a "beautiful maize crop despite some challenges with rainfall." He says the Malawi Government's policy on reforming prisons seeks to reduce inefficiencies that violate prisoners' human rights. "Prisoners have the right to health, life and food," he said. He added: "Currently with UNODC we are working on a project to build a sustainable food production system within the Malawi Prison Service so that we may be able to produce enough, and perhaps even generate some income to help us manage our penal system in Malawi."

Work is also ongoing to build the capacity of Agricultural Extension Officers to boost production on its farms. The Commissioner lamented the fact that crop production systems on MPS farms are not sufficiently mechanized. "We rely on prisoners working manually. If these prison farms were fully mechanized, we could achieve more. We need planting machines because planting is time-sensitive," he says.  He also revealed plans to develop certain prison farms into "bread baskets" in order to support other prisons.

Commissioner Kainja stated that overcrowding remains a major challenge in Malawi prisons, adding: "We are happy that within the UNODC project, we are also looking at how we can tackle overcrowding through introducing bunk-beds and improving ventilation in the cells."

Based on what is happening at the Kasungu Prison Farm, it can be said that the provision of inputs such as fertilizer and agro-chemicals has gone a long way toward helping the farm produce food. This is in line with the strategic objective of the Malawi Prison's Service, which among others, includes improved nutrition and the general health of prisoners.

An assessment conducted by UNODC last year shined light on a plethora of challenges facing Malawi prison farms. Including continuous cropping, which depletes the soil; the use of poor agricultural production methods on most farms, dramatized by continuous cropping leading to the lack of diversification; low uptake of horticultural production and agroforestry; and inefficient use of farming machinery. Another problem is the lack of a culture that views agriculture and crop production as a business.

To strengthen record keeping and accountability, the UNODC Malawi Office has begun helping the farms to embrace and effectively utilize technology such as remote sensing and GPS mapping.

An exciting component of the project was the introduction of conservation agriculture. To that end, over 20,000 nitrogen fixing trees will be introduced onto the farms over the next two or three years.

The world's population is expected to reach 9 billion in the year 2050, and the world is becoming drier and hotter due to climate change. Scientists say that the projected population explosion will add pressure on an already stretched global food production system. In many countries, prisoners and other people in confinement sit at the bottom of priority lists when hunger strikes. Therefore, helping prisons produce their own food is an important and urgent intervention.

The individual consultant is expected to produce an analytical report assessing the level of opiate trade in the region, with a specific focus on heroin consumption, trafficking routes and flows (including volume) and precursor trafficking. The report will also include information on the nature and the extent of the involvement of organized crime in the opiate trade and links to illicit trade in other forms of narcotic drugs