With 111 years since fish farming started in Malawi, a lot of developments are unfolding to define the future of the industry.
From less than a hundred practitioners with 60 ponds in 1958, now Malawi has over 6,000 fish farmers with varying pond sizes producing an estimated 3,600 tons of fish per annum.
Maldeco Aquaculture and Chambo Fisheries Limited are the country’s major fish farming companies using cage and re-circulatory production systems respectively. Maldeco Aquaculture has the capacity to produce 50 percent of total farmed tilapia in Malawi.
Potential for increased production exists for both small- and large-scale aquaculture enterprises as all sections of Lake Malawi are ideal for cage farming and over 35,000 hectares of dambo remain unutilised for integrated agriculture – aquaculture.
Due to anthropogenic activities and effects of climate change, it is evident that natural ecosystems are failing to produce enough fish to satisfy domestic consumption and export market, thereby creating space for both investment and fish imports.
In 2016, the country’s major water bodies produced 157,267.7 tons of fish while the aquaculture sub-sector produced 7,646.16 tons from ponds and cages. Combined fish production remains inadequate to meet national demands but only managed to push per capita fish consumption from nine to 10 kg per person per year.
National Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy currently under implementation envisions at increasing small- and large-scale aquaculture production from 3,600 to 10,000 tons per year through private sector engagement to venture into intensive, commercial aquaculture. A shift from subsistence level aquaculture that has dominated the sector over a century to large-scale commercial aquaculture is to improve fish supplies for wealth creation and employment.
While increasing human population is providing ready markets for fish in Malawi, slow growth of cultured species of oreochromis shiranus (makumba) and tilapia rendalli (chilunguni), unavailability of quality and affordable fish feeds and limited technological knowhow remain major problems stagnating growth of the aquaculture sector in Malawi, thus calling for stakeholders to provide innovative solutions.
At a Fisheries and Aquaculture Forum held in Mangochi recently, delegates repeated calls for the need to improve growth performance of indigenous tilapiine species which performs poorly and subjected to inadequate nutrition for low production.
Luck Penemulungu, Chairperson of Innovative Fish Farmers Network Trust, a grouping of fish farmers in Malawi, told the forum that genetic improvements on local species and availability of quality feeds would trigger a boom of investors into fish farming.
“Research findings need to be in synch with breakthroughs in genetics of local fish and formulation of better and affordable fish feeds, complementary to requisite husbandry practices,” he said.
Fish farmers in Malawi heavily rely on maize bran (madeya), vegetable remains and compost for pond manuring which are inadequate to produce fish above 600 grammes within a three months’ culture period. Cost of formulated feeds is a nightmare to most local fish farmers, hence confining fish to starvation in ponds.
Innovative Fish Farmers Network demands government to consider subsidising cost of fish feeds and allow tax waiver on aquaculture investment imports as a way of boosting the sector.
Besides high pricing, Innovative Fish Farmers Network observes that fish feeds in the country are not produced in compatibility species under culture. Fish, especially chambo, prefers floating pellets unlike sinking feeds which become a waste as it accumulates at the pond bottom.
Presenting on progress and challenges, it came as a shock when Maldeco Aquaculture Manager Jenara Ngwale disclosed that her company had abandoned feeds produced at own mills in preference for floating pellets imported from Zambia. Demand for processed fish feeds in Malawi is above 2,000 tons a year, largely consumed by commercial farms, while, in Zambia, one feed mill produces over 35,000 tons which are widely consumed by local fish farmers. Malawi remains non-lucrative for millers to produce fish feed in volumes rather than importing till demand picks up.
Ngwale disclosed that Maldeco Aquaculture Company plans to acquire an own extruder for the production of extruded floating feed to cut on forex.
Fish farmers fear that once quality of fish feeds, genetic improvements of local fish strains and fingerling supplies are not addressed, it will be hard to implement the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy and fish imports, which ironically include outlawed species such as niloticus and carps flooding local markets. Poor quality and insufficient quantities of fingerling supplies from existing hatcheries are prompting fish farmers to rely on sourcing from the wild or recycling which further complicates the problems.
Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (1997) incriminates culturing or introduction of exotic species in Malawi on the basis of the Convention on Biological Diversity Conservation which hinges on the protection and conservation of indigenous biological diversity and its sustainable use.
Yoyane Tembo, a veteran farmer at Kasinthula in Chikwawa is bitter with continued insistence on local but underperforming species while evidence indicates the presence of niloticus and carp species within the shared borders of Malawi’s aquatic ecosystem. Tembo is worried of never-ending rhetorics and assurances from authorities for solutions to key challenges dogging the sector.
“Who listens to the cries of poor fish farmers,” Tembo wonders.
High-profile aquaculture researchers during the fisheries forum justified poor growth rate of cultured species to phenotypic plasticity of tilapias which require genetic improvements citing the success of tilapia farming in Asian nations as a consequence of management and genetic interventions such as selection of appropriate species, hybridisation and development of faster growing strains and mono-sex culture systems.
“If the target is to produce large fish at the end of a grow-out cycle, then either one or a combination of the above must be applied in conjunction with appropriate and adequate nutrition and fertilization,” remarked one scientist in his paper addressing such challenges.
It is long overdue stakeholders especially scientistsmeaningfully respond to cries of poor Malawian fish farmers.
Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources is repositioning its role in advancing aquaculture research agenda following the establishment of an aqua fish centre – a regional centre of excellence that seek to facilitate and employ innovative, entrepreneurial and multi-disciplinary approaches to training, research and outreach on production, value addition and fisheries management through strategic partnerships.