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Fish farming cuts hunger and bolsters health in rural Malawi

MALAWI - By digging small ponds on farms in Malawi, researchers have cut malnutrition in children by half and provided a nutritional boost to families struggling with HIV/AIDS.

At least 90 percent of the more than 12 million Malawians are farmers, typically with small farms of less than one hectare (roughly 2.5 acres). At least one in five adult Malawians are infected with HIV/AIDS, often rendering them incapable of heavy farm work. Researchers discovered, though, that they could boost the farmers' health—and double their income—by simply digging a 200square-meter (about 2,000-square-foot) pond on the property and stocking it with fish.

Over the past five years, ecologist Daniel Jamu of the WorldFish Center and his colleagues in Malawi dug such ponds for 1,200 households. By stocking them with tilapias—a native African species that thrives in fish farms—they reduced childhood malnutrition in the region from 45 to 15 percent.

"The project has doubled income of affected households, increased consumption of fresh fish [and] increased production of maize through the production of [a] second, off-season crop," Jamu says. "Integration of aquaculture into agriculture systems aims to use existing on-farm resources such as livestock manure, brans from maize and rice—whether from [one's] own farm or [a] neighbor's farm—to produce fish, while at the same time using water harvested in ponds for irrigation of crops."

In fact, the rain-fed ponds enabled farmers to become 20 percent more productive than their peers during times of drought, thanks to the water retention as well as the nutrients left over at the bottom of the pond. "They do dry up in times of drought, but since drought is more short term," on the order of one or two months, Jamu says, "ponds are able to hold water longer…. Hence, farmers can adapt their production quickly by using the pond water and the water supply systems to grow irrigated maize."

Source: American