In 2013, IFAW implemented a new fish farm project, based in Chikolongo village – situated on the outskirts of Liwonde National Park, Malawi – to address poaching related-concerns within the National Park as well as improve food security and climate resilience for local communities. An electrified fence, designed to prevent poachers from entering the park whilst also deterring elephants from encroaching on local farmland, runs along the western boundary for six kilometres.
Historically, the local community is engaged in maize and soybean farming, with animal protein often obtained from fish taken illegally from the Shire River, which is protected within the National Park.
The need for a more sustainable dietary source of protein has led to the construction of Chikolongo Fish Farm. Tilapia, locally known as Chambo, are purchased from a commercial hatchery on Lake Malawi and are stocked in to the fishponds for on-growing to market size.
The farm consists of seven fishponds, two duck houses and one hectare of land for agricultural farming, with 24 households directly engaged in the farm. There are also positive impacts on the wider community through provision of water at a safe location away from the river and the protection of crops from animals.
The final outcome of the project will be a user-friendly fish-farming manual. While the community is accustomed to handling fish and are adept at fishing, they lack the husbandry skills (the care of crops and animals) and technical skills required to farm fish. The aim is to provide individuals with an opportunity to build on current knowledge and pass the skills to younger generations and neighbouring communities while creating a sustainable solution to food security for years to come.
The manual will cover essential areas of farm management and animal husbandry from stocking through to water management and animal welfare.
Imani consultant Pete Howson has worked closely with the community during the three month project, building strong relationships and sharing his experiences. He carried out fish feed trials in different ponds, alongside research using locally available fertilisers; taught simple grading techniques and partial harvests (the removal of part of the fish stock while the remainder is left to grow), which the families are particularly good at.
Working in Malawi on the cusp of the rainy season, allowed him to see the impacts that extreme climatic changes have on the farm. Recently, the volume of water flowing through the farm has started backing up into the ponds, with implications for various trials. Being at the farm and seeing it in both extreme drought and floods has allowed more opportunity to tailor the farm design and its management of stock for coming seasons and for compilation of the fish farming manual.
As the project comes to a close in the next few weeks, the community’s attention will be focused towards creating a suitable on-farm fish feed. Using sustainably sourced local feedstuffs, the team intends to formulate several different fish feeds, which will be professionally tested for crude protein and total lipid levels. Obtaining a sustainable feed, which can support the nutritional requirements of the fish, is a crucial step towards achieving the size and quality of fish suitable for local markets. An analysis of the feeds will take place in February, with the manual due to be finalised in March 2015.