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AYUMU Takezaki with children in one of the rice fields in Samfya supported by JICA.

Mweni finds niche in rice market

LANDISLUS Mweni, 54, who has lived almost all his life fishing from Lake Bangweulu and other water bodies in Samfya, Luapula Province, is among hundreds of people who have abandoned fishing for farming.
Although it has not been easy for Mr Mweni to stop the fishing practice which he inherited from his parents, he is a happy man spending more time in his irrigated rice field.
With the help of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Mr Mweni has adjusted and now enjoys rice cultivation as opposed to catching fish, whose stocks have even drastically dwindled over time.
The coming of JICA support for people in the fishing-dominated areas to diversify into other sources of livelihood within the agriculture sector is seen as an economic breakthrough.
Mr Mweni, who has been cultivating rice for two years, managed to get a 150kg yield from his rice field of 10 metres by 20 metres in the last harvest.
Although Samfya has not developed so much, I consider it as a town. We have Mwamfuli market, we have women marketeers who come to buy. Once you have the rice ready, you do not need to worry about the market,” a delighted Mr Mweni said in an interview when Japanese Ambassador to Zambia Hidenobu Sobashima toured the province to inspect multi-sectorial Japanese supported developmental projects.
“We just have a problem of birds and rats. So I have to be here most of the time,” he said.
Mr Mweni, who had at some point pursued priesthood in the Catholic faith but later discontinued for undisclosed reasons, has never married and has no children at all to help him out in chasing birds and rats from the rice field.
Nonetheless, he takes his bachelorhood as a blessing in disguise for he claims to have more time for his rice field because he does not have family commitments.
He finds rice cultivation more enjoyable compared to fishing, which he had been exposed to from the time he was a young boy.
In the recent years, fish stocks in Zambia have been dwindling in almost all the water bodies – Lake Bangweulu, Mweru Wantipa, Mweru-Luapula, Lukanga Swamps, Lusuwashi, Lower Zambezi and in rivers such as the Luangwa, Kafue, Chambeshi and Zambezi.
Inhabitants like Mr Mweni in these fishing regions have depended on fish for their survival for generations but incorrect fishing methods and usage of wrong tools have largely contributed to the depletion of fish stocks.
Government has tried to institute fishing bans from December to the beginning of March on all water bodies, with the exception of Lake Kariba and Lake Tanganyika, in an effort to allow for fish breeding.
The ban is put in place to avoid fishing during the breeding season to ensure the replenishing of fish stocks.
“For our rivers and lakes to be sufficiently stocked to the levels experienced in the 1970s, we need to implement a fishing ban for 12 months. It is the only way to replenish the serious depletion of fish stocks in the province,” Luapula Province Minister Nickson Chilangwa said.
In the face of the depletion of fish stocks leading to reduced incomes from fishing, other alternative sources of revenue generation are being sought at household level.
So, the support from JICA for people like Mr Mweni to diversify into other means of raising money such as rice cultivation is a welcome move.
“This crop is not just for food security but job creation as well. A number of youths can be helped to become productive through rice farming,” he said.
Rice production by irrigation keeps Mr Mweni busy all year round.
Apart from growing rice with farming input support from JICA, Mr Mweni desires to further diversify into livestock farming to enhance his chain of production.
“Livestock can give us some manur. As we know, fertiliser is good but it should be a last resort. As a good farmer, you must not rely on fertilizer [alone] but mix it with animal manure,” he said.
The initial plan of JICA was to empower the locals with knowledge on crop diversification but the people of Samfya have not shown much interest in growing other crops.
“Unfortunately, many people have not shown interest as they consider farming as very difficult. They were expecting to get handouts from JICA but for me, I am enjoying rice farming. I have a passion for this in the sense that I was unemployed and was looking for a fundraising venture and now I have got rice,” Mr Mweni said.
He encouraged other small-scale farmers to venture into rice production because the crop has multiple advantages.
“I was not aware that after harvesting rice by cutting it off, it germinates again. This is wonderful,” he said.
Ayumu Takezaki, a volunteer with the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCVs), which is run by JICA, has been working in Samfya district for the past two years and has since adopted a local name, Mulenga.
“I am encouraging farmers to grow NERICA (New Rice For Africa) because it takes only four months to harvest. It is shorter than other types of rice. This rice can be grown in dambo areas which contain lots of moisture,” Mr Takezaki said.
He also appealed to people to undertake oyster mushroom growing which he was doing at Samfya’s Farmer Training Centre.
Mr Takezaki observed that there is high demand for mushroom in Zambia, especially during the dry season.
“If you want to try this, you need to prepare a dark room, some plastic bags, husk and skin of soybeans or rice and the body of mushroom. Mushroom grows in almost two months after transplanting. This depends on temperature and weather. Let’s enjoy mushroom,” he said.