Fish business in the country will experience a boom if subsistent pond owners become commercial farmers, experts say.
The industry has not met its potential as the majority of fish farmers in the country are typically subsistent and hardly provide adequate care for fish.
In the country, most farmers own ponds covering less than a hectare and oftentimes have to do with limited inputs and technologies.
Presently, not many private firms are involved in commercial aquaculture, with Maldeco Fisheries in Mangochi being the dominant investor.
However, there are efforts to change the picture.
Among other things, the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy seeks to sustainably increase the amount captured from natural water bodies and ponds to improve nutrition and the country’s economy.
In their minds, the policymakers envisaged small and large-scale aquaculture producing 10 000 tonnes of fish by 2021, up from 3 600 tonnes in 2016.
However, falling catches of indigenous fish species (including makumba and chambo), high costs of feed and limited uptake of technologies stunt the country’s aquaculture sector.
In line with the policy goals, a consensus emerged at the National Aquaculture Stakeholders’ Dialogue Workshop in Lilongwe that the fish industry can be more profitable if farmers embrace it as business, not an everyday activity.
Delegates at the conference, including government officials, non-governmental organisations, academics, researchers and fish farmers, want players in the industry to embrace a commercial approach backed by necessary technical and financial support from government, development partners and the private sector.
The National Aquaculture and Fisheries Policy provides for public-private partnerships to uplift the industry.
Government has devolved the fisheries sector, making aquaculture support services accessible throughout the country.
Decentralisation also paves the way for the participation of district councils, NGOs and donor agencies.
According to the Department of Fisheries, there are almost 15 000 fish farmers owning over 10 000 fish ponds which cover almost 251 hectares.
“There are familiar challenges within the sub-sector, but together with different partners, we are trying hard to address them for the growth of the sector” says acting director of fisheries Dr Friday Njaya.
He reckons the increasing population of fish farmers and the count of ponds presents an opportunity and potential for the sector to grow further.
To him, the involvement of development partners is crucial to the growth and sustainability of the sector.
Presently, GiZ, the German agency for international cooperation, is running a four-year project to improve aquaculture value chains for higher incomes and food security.
The project is part of global push for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture.
Germany is pursuing a ‘One World – No Hunger’ initiative that aims at improving nutrition of local populations through improved access to fish, the source of 60 percent of animal protein in the country.
The German government is also implementing the project in Madagascar.
Aquaculture Value Chains for Higher Incomes and Food Security Project (AVCP) team leader Ladisio Da Dominica put the initiative in perspective.
The project will support the development of sustainable aquaculture businesses to increase the availability of fish products and incomes of farmers in the country.
“While fish farmers are the main focus, the project will strive to develop the entire aquaculture value chain to reduce post-harvest losses currently estimated at 40 percent of the total catch,” says Dominica.
In Malawi, the project will cover all the regions from Mzuzu City in the North, Salima in the Centre and Blantyre in the South.
It seeks to strengthen institutional capacity to boost the productivity of existing fish farms, fingerling production and the capacity of feed producers.
Zomba-based fish farmer George Khakhi is delighted with the GiZ intervention, saying increased access to quality fingerlings and feed could be the game changer for small-scale fish farmers.
“For a long time, lack of quality fingerlings, affordable feeds and technologies have slowed this industry. We need lasting solutions that will rekindle hopes of fish farmers,” he says.
Similar sentiments are echoed by other fish farmers, private sectors captains and researchers.
Some farmers in the country import fish feed from Zambia, which makes the commodity pricy. n