Teaching a community to fish

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Small scale fish farmers harvesting fish in Bahati.

Illegal fishing methods have substantially reduced wild fish stocks in Zambia, threatening food security and income for many rural-based small-scale fish farmers. It’s an urgent challenge for the Zambian Government, which has identified aquaculture as a priority in its Seventh National Development Plan, taking the country to 2021.

Two Australia Award alumni from Zambia, who completed their Masters of Sustainable Aquaculture at Curtin University in 2014, joined forces on their return home to reverse the tide through better fish farming practices.

Alumna Mazuba Mwanachingwala successfully applied for an Australia Awards Alumni Small Grant to the value of $9,993 to enhance fish production and food security in Luapula Province. She invited fellow alumnus, Libanga Ochola, to join the grant project believing that collaborating would produce greater results and strengthen their ability to change farmer behaviour.

The alumni agree that aquaculture is key to development but hampering its potential is lack of access to affordable fish feed and quality fish seed among small-scale farmers.

“We increased fish production through a simple technology that meant the farmers didn’t depend as much on expensive fish feed,” says Mazuba, who works as District Fisheries and Livestock Coordinator, Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, Mansa District, Luapula Province. “We used readily available manure from village chickens to fertilise fishponds (green-water) and set up demonstration fishponds to show how this low-cost technology can sustain production.”

The results speak for themselves. The yield of fish from fertilised ponds is 336.2 kilograms higher than from non-fertilised ponds (253.3 kilograms). There are now more fish farmers who earn more money and enhanced morale as communities rejuvenate through financial stability.

One success story is 80-year-old Bernard Chimese of Mabumba who now has 14 fully stocked fishponds. Bernard sells fingerling and table-sized fish and has used some of his income to educate his children and build a modern house.

“It’s rewarding for us to see the positive change in the financial status of farmers like Bernard,” says Mazuba. “We’ve seen other fish farmers sell their fish after harvest and plough that income back into their fish-farming activities, ensuring longevity.”

Mazuba uses the skills she gained in Australia to encourage fish farmers to open businesses. “Through integrated fish-crop-livestock farming systems, farmers can maximise profit,” she says. “They can sell chickens to earn more money at household level and sell fingerlings to other farmers to earn more income.”

Libanga also applies the knowledge and skills gained at Curtin University to the project, supplementing his expertise as Fisheries Training Officer at the Kasaka Fisheries Training Institute, Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, where he lectures, develops course packages, and coordinates, monitors and evaluates training programs.

“The small grants enable us to roll out projects that would otherwise be difficult to implement in Zambia because of lack of financial resources,” says Libanga.

Forty fish farmers (23 male and 17 female), three camp extension officers, two female information officers and two drivers have all been trained on the new techniques, which is helping tackle the challenges the industry faces.

One challenge relates to good quality fish seed, with government and private hatcheries not able to meet demand. This means farmers recycle parent fish which leads to in-breeding and stunted growth.

The high cost of fish feed and lack of funds to run farming activities are other challenges. “It takes a lot of capital to build fishponds, buy fingerlings and feed,” says Libanga. “It’s difficult for small-scale farmers to access funds and credit.”

The project continues to have ripple effects, which will go a long way to strengthening small-scale fish farming.

Effects include the Government, through the Zambia Aquaculture Enterprise Development Project, has funding a company run by two youths to put up a fish hatchery. More Agro dealers are coming on board to stock fish feed. A good number of fish farmers  have been trained on formulating fish feed from locally grown crops The Department of Fisheries is encouraging farmers to venture into integrated fish-crop-livestock systems and partners like WorldFish, GIZ and Scaling Up Nutrition, are on board supporting small-scale fish famers to enhance fish production in other beneficial ways.

The training of fish farmers is important to enhance fish production and food security in Zambia’s Luapula Province.

Trainees harvesting fish in Bahati.

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