Fishing cash out of aquaculture waters
In Malawi, agriculture accounts for 30 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), generates over 80 percent of national export earnings and employs 65 percent of the country’s workforce.
It follows therefore that investing massively in agriculture will help foster economic growth and development in the country and assist in attaining the aspirations of eradicating poverty and hunger.
One agriculture sector which has not received the required attention and investment despite its apparent economic potential is integrated fish farming.
It is estimated that there are 6,167 farmers engaged in aquaculture with fish production increasing from 800 metric tonnes (MT) in 2006 to 4,739 metric tonnes and making a contribution of about K5.6 billion to the Malawi economy in 2015.
It is further estimated that about 10 to 20 percent (11,650km2) of the land is suitable for aquaculture but only about 276 hectares are currently under fish farming in the country.
Among the few farmers who have chosen to travel the route not so often travelled, and is making a killing out of fish is Lucky Penumulungu.
The Lilongwe-based fish farmer has been carrying out intensive fish farming for over 8 years at his Chithumba Farm where he has a hatchery and 16 ponds, each carrying a minimum of 2000 fish of varying types including catfish, Tilapia and Chambo.
On top of his flourishing business venture, Penumulungu also offers permanent employment to a total of 30 employees who are in charge of the day-to-day operations on his farm.
This year Malawi played host to the Southern African Regional Irrigation Association (Saria) annual conference and in line with its theme, Rural Fresh Water Aquaculture, the delegates were offered a chance to tour Chithumba farm where Penumulungu offered insights of how he is managing his business and the motivation behind his dream.
“I realised there was a serious need to make up for fish shortages in the country. The amount of fish in the lakes [and even in our rivers] has dwindled so as a business person I saw this as an opportunity I could exploit,” he said.
As Penumulungu explained what is involved on a daily basis in running his business, it becomes clear how demanding the venture is financially and in terms of human resource and commitment.
It is with little wonder that many smallholder farmers have looked away from investing in fish farming though it is very attractive in return financially.
“To breed catfish first we collect breeders, both male and female from fish ponds and then we check the females if they have well matured eggs. The ones with well matured eggs and are at a stage where they can spawn in the next few days are, together with males of similar size who are ready to fertilise, taken to a hatchery.
“But before putting them together a hormone is injected which induces the laying of eggs and effects the male ones to fertilise within 12 hours after injection,” explained Penumulungu.
The fish are left overnight and in the morning they are checked to see if the female has released the eggs and the eggs have been fertilised.
Immediately, the female and male breeders are taken back to the pond and the eggs undergo a process of aeration for two to three days after which they hatch.
For the smallholder farmers who may get scared with the demands and requirements of this business, Penumulungu has a word for them.
“They can do this minus the part of developing their own hatchery which I believe requires a massive capital investment which is beyond them and even more technical. There is a way to go around that by adopting an outgrowing system where they can just buy fingerlings from people who breed them in their hatcheries,” he said.
Another factor which is holding back a majority of famers is the cost of the feed used; a bag of 50 kg is between K22 000 to K25 000 making it beyond the reach of majority of rural smallholder farmers.
“On this front we need the government to come and help us, if they realise the need to develop aquaculture in the country which am sure they do maybe it is time we subsidized the feed just like we did with fertiliser in maize production,” said Penumulungu.
Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza admits the challenges the sector is facing among them being low access to capital for investment in fish farming and limited availability of improved fish production technologies.
“There are a number of challenges affecting the fisheries industry in Malawi [including] overfishing along lake shores and in shallow water bodies, partly due to weak enforcement of fishing regulations and unexploited deep water fish resources; insufficient production and access to quality fingerlings and feed for aquaculture,” said Chiyembekeza.
Though the sector is beset by numerous challenges, the Saria visiting team was left impressed by what they saw at Chithumba farm.
Regional Coordinator for Saria activities Sylvester Mpandeli said Malawi is on the right path in fish farming and urged it to build on the foundations it has laid already to start exporting in other countries.
“In South Africa we are running aquaculture programmes but we have to agree here that Malawi is ahead of us and our friends here can help us to up our game. I do believe that collaboration at country and institutional level will assist us tackle some of the challenges that we are currently facing,” said Mpandeli.
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