Archaic traditions thwart fish farming progress


Geremu Wilson, 48, vows that he will never sink so low as to construct a fish pond in his wife’s home village for fear that he may be forced to leave it behind in case of the unforeseen circumstance of divorce.

Wilson is following matrilineal system of marriage that requires him to relocate to his wife’s home village.

While other couples opt to settle at a neutral place and invest patriarchal and matrilineal systems of marriage, which are two common systems of marriage in Malawi based on one’s ethnicity, seem to be a hindrance to such arrangements.


However, an analysis of the two systems reveals that they are having a great bearing on development initiatives, including fish farming.

Inkosi Nyoka of Mchinji has no kind words for the likes of Wilson, describing his behaviour as a recipe for self-inflicted poverty and food insecurity at the household level.

While acknowledging that traditions have to be respected, Nyoka suggests that subscription to a particular marriage system should not be used as a scapegoat from engaging in fish farming as that is equal to sheer laziness.


“It is sad that some people still hold on to archaic traditional beliefs,” bemoans Inkosi Nyoka who, in partnership with Mchinji District Assembly, is on a crusade to persuade chiefs under his jurisdiction to encourage their subjects to utilise the opportunity to construct own fish ponds.

Nyoka anticipates a blue revolution as most areas in traditional authorities Mkanda, Mavwere, Zulu, Mlonyeni, Pitala, Simphasi, Dambe, Kapondo, Mduwa and Inkosi Nyoka himself have well-established clay to loamy soils, fairly flat terrain, numerous rivers and dambos that maintain a higher water table throughout the year.

Despite Bua and Lusa rivers stretching over a large area in the district, the two rivers have insufficient production output of Matemba fish hence embarking on fish farming guarantees communities a steady supply of fresh fish at farmers door step.

Mchinji is located 250 kilometres away from the nearest Lake Malawi district of Salima, resulting into fresh or dried fish being unaffordable to many people. Because of distance factor, people in the district have resigned to consuming poor quality fish.

“It is for this reasons that we are on a blue revolution, encouraging people in potential areas to embark on fish farming with support from the assembly as well as other external sources,” says Nyoka, further directing that no chief should refuse anyone a piece of idle land for the construction of fish ponds or related ventures.

Ngoni is the dominant tribe in Mchinji and legend has it that it is long associated with keeping herds of cattle for milk and beef. But Nyoka recounts that there has been a paradigm shift for other alternative sources of proteins and meat products to sustain the Ngoni’s dietary preferences.

Frequent disease outbreaks, drought, collapsed livestock

extension support services and rampant cases of cross border cattle rustling are discouraging a lot of farmers from keeping cattle, consequently resorting to fish or goat farming in direct response to achieving sustainable integrated rural household food and economic security in the face of unpredictable weather patterns.

Mchinji has a total of 756 fish ponds and 880 individual fish farmers and officials are optimistic that the numbers are set to increase.

District Fisheries Officer, Gertrude Kajadu, discloses that her office is working closely with non-state actors such as Christian Action Relief in Development, Catholic Relief Services and Concern World Wide in providing technical and extension support services to rural communities interested in starting fish farming in addition to other food crops.

Kajadu says inadequate supply of quality fish fingerlings and scarcity of high quality locally made fish feeds are major obstacles facing fish farming, but adds that there are plans to secure funds to train fish farmers in cluster fingerling and feed production so as to spur the blue revolution further.

As part of the efforts, the Fisheries Department established Nyoka Fish Farming Scheme in 2005. The scheme has become one of the successful demonstration sites to inspire local community’s engagement into fish farming in the border district.

From the initial membership of 85, the scheme has 21 members while the rest have graduated with enough knowledge to start their own fish ponds replete with full integration aspects.

Fisheries extension worker, Harison Govea, concurs with Nyoka on the point that coordinated sensitisation campaigns on untapped potential conducted by local communities as well as demonstrated uniqueness of fish above other meat products have resulted in a boom of fish farming in the district, which has long been synonymous with beef consumption.

“Most meat products are products of bio-fortification or are genetically modified for commercial purposes hence becoming a health risk while fish remains the only clean food product for one’s good health,” emphasizes Govea.

While Nyoka Fish Farming Scheme intends to increase the number of ponds and embark on diary and vegetable production, its chairperson, Evans Kalebe, appeals for support towards rehabilitation of the water intake system as they consider relocating their water intake to the source of Bua River atop Mchinji Mountain.

However, further success hinges on continued mindset change.

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