By Maxwell Kudzala:
Awushe Adam Chindamba is a single mother from Ntagaluka Village under Group Village Head M’baluku in Traditional Authority Mponda – Mangochi.
Her husband abandoned her 15 years ago.
Since then, the 51-year-old has, single-handedly, been fending for her four children and two grandchildren.
Ntagaluka Village is located immediately after the Bakili Muluzi Bridge over Shire River. Proximity to this river has always worked to the advantage of Chindamba.
For the past years, Chindamba has relied on fish vending to generate income for needs of her family, however, fish stocks haven’t been the same over the years.
“Fish catches have kept dwindling over the years,” Chindamba says.
“There was time when our fishers could catch lots of fish, including chambo but not any More. I really can’t recall the last time I stocked chambo,” she adds.
Chindamba’s concern over the dwindling catches of fish from the Shire River is well documented by the Fisheries Department in the district.
The records indicate that Upper Shire has a variety of fish species, namely usipa, kambuzi kasawala, mbaba, kampango, mcheni, sanjika, ntchila, mpasa, mlamba, bombe, utaka, sawasawa, nkholokolo, makumba and the mighty chambo.
The documentation further indicates that Catch and Effort Data for total catches by artisanal fishers were at 384.91 metric tons in 2016, followed by 314.09 metric tons in 2017 and 462.23 metric tons in 2018.
The department is yet to release the 2019 report but a closer look at the catches of the chambo delicacy over the past few years, it is worrying.
“In 2016, artisanal fishers caught a total of 37.86 metric tons of chambo while in 2017 the chambo catch was 14 metric tons only and in 2018 it was 14.13 metric tons,” explains Mangochi District Fisheries Officer Neverson Msusa.
“In Mangochi, we have three sites namely: Lake Malombe, Upper Shire River and Lake Malawi.
“By comparison, reports of these sites indicate that catches are the lowest in the Upper Shire Region,” Msusa adds.
The dwindling catches of chambo in the Upper Shire Region have jostled the Fisheries Department to think of alternatives.
Msusa says the department, in partnership with Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), has embarked on aquaculture through a Cage Culture Initiative to boost production of chambo in the region.
He believes the initiative will supplement fish supply during closed season of regular fishing.
Technical Lead Implementation Officer of Cage Culture Initiative Titus Phiri confirms the development.
He says the bathymetry study (measurement of water depth in oceans, rivers or lakes) for the region was done in May, 2019 and that additional surveys established that its nutrient content levels could not disrupt the process.
“Studies were conducted from the Bakili Muluzi Bridge to open mouth of Lake Malombe and it has been established that the region has few snails which means nutrient content is normal,” Phiri explains.
“The region also contains freshwater with good quality, which is fine for the fish because they will feed on industrial feeds,” he adds.
Under the initiative, five cages were constructed in December last year  which have since been installed in the Shire River’s upper region.
In the pilot phase, 22 lead fish farmers in two beach village committees in the area are involved.
These are expected to train others once the pilot phase is successful.
What remains now is stocking of fingerlings for breeding as pilot stage of the project, according to Phiri.
“We will put 8,000 makumba fingerlings to grow for six months while targeting average harvesting size of 200 grammes or above,” he explains.
Like Msusa, Phiri notes the big gap between the supply of chambo against the ever-increasing demand and observes that equipping fishers with aquaculture skills would be ideal in bridging this gap.
“Chambo is a species which is generally loved by Malawians and, [therefore], is one of the major candidates for aquaculture but it has become scarce on the market.
“So, we would like to teach people to grow fish instead of relying on naturally grown fish,” Phiri stresses.
FAO Chief Technical Adviser Niklas Mattson indicates the project may roll out to the rest of the country’s stretch of water bodies upon the success of the trial stage of the five cages under pilot.
“As FAO, we are already working at Lake Malombe on a different project but for the Upper Shire River, we are still on pilot stage.
“We are discussing with relevant stakeholders on the possibility of taking the Chambo Fish Cage Culture Project to a large scale,” Mattson explains.
He says the initiative can boost catches as well as empower local households economically through contract farming.
“The good thing with this project is that small-scale farmers will have to be involved; this way, they will easily be exposed to bigger markets like Maldeco,” he adds.
Once exposed to bigger players such as Maldeco Fisheries, Mattson says small-scale farmers will also have the advantage of transportation being catered for.
In January 2017, FAO embarked on a ‘Fisheries Resilience for Malawi’ Initiative targeting 54,000 households around Lake Malombe.
The initiative aimed at building resilience in the fisheries sector by December, 2021.
Like the Cage Fish Farming, it attempts to benefit households around the lake whose lives solely depend on fishing.
The coming of the Chambo Fish Cage Culture Project in the Upper Shire Region is expected to boost chambo fish production in the area.
Not only that, the initiative has also revived hopes of fish vendors like the 51-year-old Chindamba who is now Chairperson for Madina Beach Village Committee to have enough stocks of chambo.
With hope, he is now a keen follower of the Chambo Cage Culture Project.
“This is the best way of restoring the chambo and I look forward to seeing myself stocking the species again.
“I can’t wait to win back my chambo customers,” says Chindamba, a dreamy look plastered on her face.
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