Bachelor of Science in Horticulture is one of the programmes being offered at LUANAR’s Bunda College.
This week our reporter caught up with one of the Senior Lecturers in the Department of Horticulture, Mrs Jacinta Nyaika Maliro.
You are an expert in horticulture.
Who are horticulturalists and what do they do? Horticulturalists are people who practice the art and science of the development, sustainable production, marketing and use of high-value, intensively cultivated food and ornamental plants.
It is essential to note that horticultural crops are diverse; they include annual and perennial species, delicious fruits and vegetables, and decorative indoor and landscape plants.
These specialty crops help sustain and enrich our lives by providing nutritious food, enhancing the beauty of our homes and communities, and reducing our carbon footprint.
As such, practitioners of horticulture are as diverse as the crops that make up the industry and the discipline.
They include a wide array of individuals and groups, who farm, landscape, garden research, advise and enjoy the bounty of horticultural plants for their nourishment, health benefits and aesthetics.
Take us through your educational and professional journey.
I went to Makande Primary School and Nkhwangwa Primary School at Ngabu, in Chikwawa District.
I then went to Providence Secondary School from 2001 to 2004.
Thereafter, I did my Bachelor of Science and Master of Science Degrees at Bunda College of Agriculture, then a constituent college of the University of Malawi (Currently, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources), from 2005 to 2009 and 2010 to 2012 respectively.
Soon after my graduation in 2009, I worked as a Research Assistant (on volunteering programme) for the Agriculture Research Development Programme (ARDEP) within Bunda College on one of their projects that was promoting potato production in Malawi.
Through this project, I was offered a scholarship for my MSC studies in 2010.
I also worked as a Horticulture Officer with the Ministry of Agriculture for Chiradzulu District Agriculture Development Office from 2011 to 2012 before joining as a Staff Associate in the Department of Horticulture, at LUANAR, soon after I completed my studies.
I have done a number of short courses to enhance my skills for my career.
Currently, I am serving as a Senior Lecturer in Horticulture and I am mainly responsible for teaching, research and consultancy in Postharvest Physiology and Handling of Horticultural Crops and Seed Production for Horticultural Crops.
I also own and manage Bio-Green Lab, a processing company that produces and manufactures Specialty Teas such as Ginger Tea, Roselle Tea and Lemon Grass Tea.
For those aspiring to become horticulturalists, what qualities should they possess? To become a practicing horticulturalist, one needs to develop passion for plants and environment.
Attention to detail is also required.
They also need be problem solvers and critical thinkers.
They need to have good communication skills and persuasion skills.
Apart from lecturing and research, what other jobs can a horticulturalist do? Graduates with a degree in Horticulture enter a broad range of challenging and rewarding professional careers in production, management and marketing.
Graduates often open their own business enterprises such as fruit and vegetable production, mushroom farms, landscape design/build and maintenance companies, nurseries, greenhouses, gardens and floriculture centers for government and private firms, pest management for regulatory agencies and agricultural suppliers, marketing and sales of horticultural firms, inspection officers for fresh and processed produce.
How important is the field to the development of the nation? Horticulturalists deal with high value crops and plants from a very small piece of land.
As such the industry is very rewarding both at individual level and to the whole nation.
Production of horticultural crops offers food and nutrition security, income generation for the farmers and or producing companies and employs a lot of people since its production is intensive.
Horticulture can also help improve our GDP if it is taken seriously since most of the produce have a high demand on the export market.
We have seen some neighboring countries such as Zambia,Tanzania, Kenya, and South Africa souring high with production of fruits and Vegetables.
If Malawi would strategically position itself to strengthen the horticultural industry, Tobacco fluctuating prices would not be a worry any more.
Which institutions in Malawi and elsewhere train horticulturalists? In Malawi, Horticulturists are trained by Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, both at Bunda and NRC campuses.
Horticulture programme is also offered by Zambia Open University in Zambia, Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, Stellenbosch University in South Africa, Jomo Kenyatta and Egerton Universities in Kenya and many other International Universities.
Any notable LUANAR/Bunda horticulture alumni who are doing quite well out there? The Current Minister of Agriculture, Honourable Lobin Lowe, is a Bunda graduate and owner of Greenworld Nurseries and Orchards.
Another well known Bunda Graduate is Mr Frank Washoni, owner of Hortinet Ltd, a firm that produces bananas and citrus fruits and vegetables; he has just installed a commercial state of the art Tissue Culture Laboratory for propagating bananas to help sort out the country with diminishing banana industry due to the bunchy top virus disease.
Youngsters can look up to Mr Emmanuel Banda and his colleagues, who are LUANAR graduates that own Noble Agricultural Technologies (NAT), a company that installs greenhouses, hydroponics and irrigation systems in Malawi.
What are the challenges you face as a horticulturalist? Firstly, horticulturalists lack a guiding policy for the sector in Malawi.
As such, most smallholder farmers are not organized and to beat up quality production quantities and meeting food safety standards that are required by international markets.
Horticulture industry also faces poor marketing infrastructure, information system and unorganized marketing of horticultural crops, which leads to farmers incurring food losses since most of these produce are highly perishable and usually grown according to favorable seasons.
Most horticultural farmers do lack specialized research, extension and training messages because absorption of graduates in the extension labour market is very low.
And lastly, farmers have limited access to quality seed and planting materials, hence end up realizing low yields.
What advice do you have for those aspiring to become horticulturalist? If one aspires to become a horticulturalist, they need to develop passion and have a better understanding for biological sciences.
Practicing horticulture also requires hard work and determination to produce quality produce.