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Lower fish prices

by Raphael Mweninguwe
An estimated 60 % of Malawians’ animal protein intake comes from fish. The natural supply from lakes and rivers is dwindling, but aquaculture businesses have helped to reduce the fish price nonetheless.

The crisis of Malawi’s fisheries began in the early 80s, with production declining due to a number of factors and the population growing, which meant greater fish demand. The famous Malawi tilapia, which is locally known as chambo, was exported to other countries in the region and Europe until about 1982 when the country’s fish exports collapsed as a result of low fish catches. After the first multiparty general elections in 1994 the situation became even worse with fishermen using the wrong kind of fishing gear, which resulted in over-fishing. At that time, they did not understand rights and responsibilities and felt they could do what they wanted.

Realising that the situation was getting out of hand, Malawi’s government held meetings with local communities. The result was the formulation of the 1996 policy and the 1998 Fisheries Resources and Management Act. It spelled out some measures to improve matters. One was the formation of beach village committees, with local village chiefs assuming responsibility for fisheries management.

The government also encouraged farmers to invest in fish farming. Currently, over 6,000 farmers are involved in this business and many are happy with aquaculture: “I have been growing fish for the past six years, I have four ponds and I make lots of cash,” says Mary Khungwa, a farmer from Thyolo district.

Most of the farmers work in groups and get financial support from NGOs like World Vision International. For an investment worth $ 0.20, farmers later reap in a fish revenue worth two dollars. The benefits of fish farming outweigh the few environmental problems. Businesses have not yet reached a stage where they would lead to monoculture.

Although fish farming has boosted fish production from around 25,000 tons a year to about 60,000 tons a year, it has very little impact on natural fisheries resources. What fish farming has done in the country is to ease pressure of natural fisheries resources.

Raphael Mweninguwe