MOSES NYATI, Chitambo
THE growing demand for fish is culminating into overfishing and depletion of stocks in some rivers. This depletion of fish stocks in the natural water bodies has not spared Chitambo district as evidenced from the low number in the Bangweulu swamps. However, the district’s rich endowment with water resources provides business opportunities for the development of aquaculture.
In addressing this crises, Government has partnered with the Agriculture Productivity and Market Enhancement Project (APMEP) to promote aquaculture development in the district. The partnership is also aimed at enhancing the country’s agricultural diversification agenda.
In the first half of 2017, the project supplied about 30,000 fingerlings with feed to six farmers that have demonstrated hard work. Prior to that, the farmers had undergone intensive training in fish farming. The training, facilitated by officers from the Department of Fisheries with financial support from APMEP, tutored farmers to treat fish farming as business.
Five ponds belonging to three farmers were partially harvested in the second half of 2017. In terms of output, the district recorded over 850kgs of table size fish from five partially-harvested ponds in the second half of 2017.
In an interview, a beneficiary, Chesha Kunda, lauded Government for the empowerment scheme.
Mr Kunda said after a poor harvest from one of his ponds, he thought that fish farming was not a profitable business but his perception changed after attending a one-week intensive training programme in fish farming that was oganised by the Department of Fisheries.
Before that, Mr Kunda was a peasant farmer-cum-fisherman. After harvesting his crops, it was common practice for him and other fishermen in the community to go and camp in the Bangweulu swamps immediately after the farming season and would only return home when the fish ban was enforced. This meant that the fishermen would continuously comb the waters of Bangweulu for about seven months.
Mr Kunda admits that the fish stocks would get depleted and the farmers would struggle to get a catch in the Bangweulu swamps. He says that the depletion of fish in rivers is exacerbated by the use of illegal and unsustainable fishing methods.
In April 2017, Government through the APMEP project supplied Mr Kunda with 6,500 fingerlings and feed.
And after six months of intensive management of his fish farm, Mr Kunda was able to harvest about 250kgs of table size fish from one of the fish ponds. Though the harvest was partial, he was able to make K6, 250 from the sales.
He reinvested part of the money into the business to ensure continuity and spent the rest of it on household needs and sponsoring of one of his children to college.
After a good harvest, Mr Kunda has been encouraging other fishermen to convert to fish farming and is selling fingerlings to those interested.
He is confident that given the district’s comparative advantage in terms of location coupled with abundant water resources, Chitambo is on course to becoming a food basket for Central Province.
Another APMEP beneficiary, Joel Mwape, who received 8,500 fingerlings last April, commended Government for empowering small-scale fish farmers. Mr Mwape was able to harvest about 400kgs of table size fish from two ponds after six months of farming. He released an income of K10, 000.
Like Mr Kunda, he invested half of the money into the business to ensure continuity. He used the other K5,000 to buy roofing sheets for a two-bedroom house he is building.
Mr Mwape said fish farming has also boosted the family’s food and nutritional security because fish is naturally rich in proteins.
Chitambo District Agricultural Co-ordinator Katumwa Mutandi said the stories of the smalls-scale farmers proves Government’s commitment to diversifying agricultural production.
Mr Mutandi said his office intends to stock 10 more fish ponds in Chitambo, measuring 2000m2, with fingerlings early this year. He said all the 10 fish ponds were ready for stocking, therefore the project co-ordinating office needs to procure the fingerlings as soon as possible.