Malawi’s aquaculture sub sector can substantially boom if players in the industry embrace commercial orientation, away from mere subsistence, to trigger long desired benefits.
Majority of fish farmers in Malawi are typically subsistent, operating on less than a hectare of pond size, applying minimal amount of inputs and often consigning fish to starvation. Due to economic and resource constraints, levels of technological uptake are significantly low. Unlike other farming enterprises, private sector involvement into commercial aquaculture is low, with Maldeco Fisheries being dominant among less than five actors.
Once current initiatives and efforts are implemented to the latter, a new wave of blue revolution is likely to change the narrative. The National Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy seeks to sustainably increase capture fisheries and aquaculture productivity for more access to fish nutrition and contribution to the country’s economy. Annual production from small and large scale aquaculture is anticipated to increase from 3,600 tons to 10,000 tons by 2021.
Underperformance of indigenous fish species of Oreochromis shiranus (Makumba) and Oreochromis Karongae (Chambo), high costs of inputs especially feed and limited uptake of technological innovations continue to weigh down Malawi’s aquaculture sector. In order to actualise the broader national policy goals, development of small and large scale aquaculture with a business orientation cannot be overemphasized.
Operationalisation of the National Aquaculture and Fisheries Policy has created a conducive policy environment for aquaculture industry to thrive through promotion of research, availability of financing options such as private – public partnerships and provision of technical support to possible investors.
During a National Aquaculture Stakeholders Dialogue workshop in Lilongwe drawing together government officials, NGOs, the academia, researchers and fish farmers, a clear consensus emerged that aquaculture in Malawi can hit new heights if there is a strong mindset change to embrace a commercial orientation drive, backed by strong technical and financial support from government, development partners and the private sector.
With the fisheries sector fully devolved, aquaculture support services are accessible throughout the country attracting participation of local assemblies, related NGOs and donor agencies. As a manifestation to this, it was disclosed during the stakeholder’s workshop that currently there are 15, 000 individual fish farmers owning over 10,000 fish ponds, which translates into 251 hectorage under use.
“Of course there are challenges within the sub sector which we all know about but together with different partners, we are trying hard to address them for the growth of the sector,” Friday Nyaya, acting Director of Fisheries remarked, adding that the current increase in numbers of fish farmers and their ponds is a confidence booster as it portrays that opportunities exist for the sector to grow further.
Involvement of development partners is crucial towards the growth and sustainability of the sector in Malawi and GiZ intervention is likely to breathe a new impetus following a four-year Aquaculture Value Chains for Higher Incomes and Food Security Project (AVCP). The project is part of global programme on sustainable fisheries and aquaculture and a Germany government ‘One world – No hunger’ initiative that aims at improving nutrition situation of local populations through sustainable aquaculture.
Profile documentation reveal that such projects are to be implemented in Madagascar and Malawi, and the latter was selected on the basis of the role aquaculture plays within nutritional security dimension of the rural populace where 60 percent of animal protein is derived from fish. Social – physical characteristics favouring aquaculture were also considered.
Ladisio Da Dominica, who is the Team Leader, explained that the project is to support the development of Malawi’s aquaculture sector in selected regions so as to increase the availability of fish products and incomes from sustainably operated small and medium sized aquaculture businesses. While fish farmers are the core focus group, the project will also strive to develop the entire aquaculture value chain as a measure to counter post-harvest losses, currently pegged at 40 percent.
In Malawi, the project’s impact area stretches within a 75 kilometre radius from Mzuzu city, Salima and Blantyre districts, with focus on increasing production from existing fish farms, support to fingerling and feed producers through institutional strengthening, capacity building, business relations and creation of frameworks for sustainable and resource friendly aquaculture.
Fish feed is currently being imported from Zambia, which is a tall order for most local fish farmers hence compromising on production. Culturing of exotic species remains outlawed in Malawi as research for genetic improvement of exiting indigenous species is yet to make significant breakthroughs
George Khakhi, a Zomba based innovative fish farmer, expressed delight at GiZ intervention but singles out that improving quality of fingerling and feeds need to be viewed beyond present scenarios for tangible outputs.
“Lack of quality fingerlings, affordable fish feeds and technological innovations have weighed down this industry for so long such that once lasting solutions are found, then likely a bright hope can be envisaged,” he said.
Similar sentiments are echoed by most fish farmers, potential investors and researchers alike.