By AGNESS CHILEYA-
Zambia’s aquaculture industry is slowly but steadily growing to be one of the major contributors to improving the economy.
With Government’s will to grow the sector being strong, the aquaculture is poised for massive growth with more people venturing into the business.
The sector has great potential in contributing to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and improving the livelihoods of people.
The fish farming industry, being in its infancy, requires many knowledge gaps to be filled in order for it to reach its highest potential and more so, to attract more smallholder farmers in rural areas.
With efforts from industry players like WorldFish providing knowledge, technical skills, market linkages and support to smallholder fish farmers, the narrative is steadily changing.
More and more people in both urban and rural areas are beginning to venture into fish farming as a business.
From the smallholder farmer census conducted by WorldFish under the NORAD AQ-TEVET project, it was discovered that smallholder farmers’ businesses were not growing as much as they should.
The farmers lacked knowledge, access to extension services, access to commercial feed suppliers and quality fingerlings.
With support from GIZ, WorldFishembarked on a pilot project on Inclusive Business and Entrepreneurial Models for smallholder fish farmers and poor value chain actors in Zambia and Malawi (IBEMS).
Bwalya Chisanga 38, a beneficiary under the project, is an emerging hatchery operator and fish farmer in Mwamba Mulilo Village in Mungwi district.
He started fish farming with one earthen pond in 2018 with no technical knowledge on fish farming, and no source of quality fingerlings.
He was only able to harvest fish enough to feed his family and the fish was very small.
In 2019, he was exposed to WorldFish interventions with fish farmers in the district who were teaching farmers on better management skills in fish farming and introducing them to new technologies as well as linking them to markets.
The farmers were being taught, among other things, fingerling production and how to build better fishponds for fish farming.
They were also introduced to the use of commercial fish feed.
“My fish started growing very big after this exposure and was highly marketable because of the feed and the quality fingerlings I was now using,”Mr Chisanga said.
Mr Chisanga was trained to be a hatchery operator in 2020 and provided with 100 fish, four hapas, one net, four bags of commercial fish feed and other materials to help him manage his new business well.
“My friends were laughing at me when they saw this; they thought I was lazy because I could not go to fish in the big rivers. They told me fish cannot be farmed as it is a natural gift God gave us in our waters,”he said.
Mr Chisanga explained thatsome people, especially in rural areas, see aquaculture as a “lazy peoples” venture because according to them, if one cannot brave the waves of the natural water bodies to catch fish to be able to gain an income for the family, they are not worthy to be called fishermen.
Despite the negativity, he persisted in his business.
He now owns six ponds and a fingerling hatchery.
His wife,Jennifer, 33, alsoowns her own pond, which helps her to generate an income of her own.
The family makes a profit of approximately K10,000 per month, whichis used to take care of all the family needs.
“Fish farming is beneficial.We as women cannot just depend on men to provide the family’s needs. What happens in cases where your husband dies? How can you take care of yourself and your family?” she asked.
She said fish farming has helped her to be self-reliant and eased the burden on her husband to be a sole provider.
Before WorldFish interventions increased their business,the family said their diet was mainly vegetables.
But afteracquiring skills through the WorldFish group in Kasama, led by Aquaculture Scientist Dr Mary Lundeba, the family is now able to afford three decent meals and provide for all theirneeds,including taking their children to school.
They have also been able toventure into maize and soya beans farming,which has further increased their income base.
Mr Chisanga and his wife, Jennifer,now pride themselves in having built a house.
The family has lived in a small grass thatched house with their four children and two nephews, but in July this year, they managed to begin building a three bedroomed modern house, which is almost complete, from their earnings from the fish farming business.
The couple grins as they explain how the knowledge they have gained has helped change their fish farming business and their lives.
Mr Chisanga said aquaculture has great potential to grow.
However, he said the biggest challenge is the knowledge gap.
The fish farmer said most potential farmers lack technical knowledge.
He called on more stakeholders to join WorldFish in helping to cushion the knowledge gap in order to further grow the industry especially in rural areas.
(The author is the communications assistant at WorldFish-Zambia/Malawi).