Today is the World Wetlands Day. Our Contributor CHARLES MKOKA highlights the benefits communities surrounding Lake Chilwa are reaping from the wetland hit hard by climate change.
Lake Chilwa basin offers great economic potential for nearly one million people on its margins. The beneficiaries include farmers and fishers.
Low-lying communities in Machinga, Phalombe and Zomba districts share the benefits of the wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention as well as Unesco’s Man and Biosphere reserve.
The people in the lake basin are involved in rice farming, fishing, bird-hunting and livestock rearing, which prove vital when the levels of the lake dwindle due to prolonged drought, siltation and other environmental mishaps.
Symon Namphande, 36, from Mateketa in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mbiza in Zomba, lives on an arable land within the lake basin.
He observes that before the introduction of fish farming by Adapt Plan project, life was tough.
Adapt Plan started engaging them in early January 2018. The installation of water pumps has greatly improved their catch and sales.
“Previously, we had nothing much to do, but they have taught us fish farming,” Namphande says.
Fish farming, according to Namphande, is a reliable source of protein and income for the group of 35 who earned K362 500 during their first harvest from their two ponds.
“We are looking forward to the next catch. We are looking forward to more profits,” he says.
The group plans to construct new ponds to increase fish catches and earnings.
Principal fisheries officer Kingsley Kamtambe says government promotes fish farming to build resilience of rural communities hit hard by climate change.
Fish farming, he observes, is an essential business for people who rely on rain-fed agriculture.
“Fish ponds act as water reservoirs for irrigation if they are constructed strategically. This enables fish farmers to grow both cash crops and fish for household consumption and for sale,” says Kamtambe.
Charles Malizani, 40, is chairperson of Sunuzi Integrated Irrigation Scheme in the area.
He says the scheme complete with a solar-powered integrated water supply system has lifted them out of poverty.
Malizani said supply of water boosts fish farming even when other water sources in the drought-prone area run dry.
“We have been facing drought due to effects of climate change. The solar-powered water system gives us sustained water supply throughout the year. This increases fish production,” he explains.
Counting the gains
Chrissy Nabwenje, who farms a half-hectare plot in the scheme, switched from growing maize to tomatoes which fetch more money at the nearest food market.
The farmers meet in a shelter at the centre of the scheme to discuss issues that affect them. The scheme also has a store room for their market-bound farm produce.
To conserve water, soil and other natural resources, the farmers have planted trees in their homesteads, bare patches, neighbouring hills and riverbanks. They raise tree seedlings to restore degraded catchment areas.
Sunuzi Scheme is not the only one in the area. There is also Tilitonse Scheme, where farmers mostly grow tomatoes, onions and other high-value crops.
Steven Majawa explains:
“We are making quick money thanks to the integrated water scheme here. I have sent my son to a teacher’s college in Chiradzulu using money from this initiative.”
Threats to wetlands
A 2019 State of the Environment Report by US-funded Fish Project recommendations ecosystem-based management plan for the Lake Chilwa wetland massively affected by soil erosion, deforestation and siltation of watercourses.
Environmental degradation, coupled with climate change, negatively affects water levels and fish breeding sites.
The report calls for diversification of economic activities, including savings and loan groups in fishing communities to boost adaptation and decrease vulnerability to climate change. The farmers can invest the savings in climate-smart agriculture and businesses to lessen the harsh impacts of climate change.