It is undisputable fact that fish volumes, particularly for the renowned chambo, in Lake Malawi are fast dwindling. Experts contend that the rapid drop in the lake’s water levels, triggered by population growth, climate change and deforestation is threatening its floral and fauna species with extinction.
People who depend on fish for the livelihoods are also threatened with the ever dwindling fish stocks. This state of affairs has not spared the Mangochi-based Foods Company, trading as Maldeco Fisheries and Maldeco Aquaculture, subsidiaries of dual-listed conglomerate Press Corporation Limited (PCL).
In capture fisheries, according to the PCL 2013 annual report, variable and unsettled weather caused unpredictable fish movement and distribution in the lake, leading to low fish catches by all fishing trawlers.
In aquaculture section, harvest volumes were also low partly because of water pumping faults which led to fish growth problems.
“In capture fisheries, there is not very much growth in terms of catches, actually they are going down. As you aware, fish volumes in Lake Malawi have been going down for some time now, especially chambo. Nowadays, we catch small fish such as ndunduma, utaka, sawasawa. So really, as far as we are concerned, the future of Maldeco is in aquaculture fisheries,” said the company’s operations manager Jenara Ngwale.
She was speaking last Friday during an open day the company organised for farmers and fisheries experts that also included officials from New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) regional fish node based at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) in Lilongwe to share their experiences on fish production.
“We would like to share with them how we produce fingerlings [small fish especially up to one year of age] because we have a hatchery where we produce fingerlings. We also have a feed mill where we produce quality fish feeds.
“The aim [of the open day] is for us to share with them how to manage the ponds because it is not only the feed and fingerlings that make them have good yields but it is also how they manage ponds,” said Ngwale.
During the open day, visiting officials were oriented on the production of fingerlings and fish feed to ensure quality management to improve fish yields. This is to ensure that farmers get more income in fish farming. Maldeco also makes money by selling fish and fingerlings.
Maldeco plans to improve fish production particularly on its aquaculture project, because the fisheries business is struggling.
“We have 21 ponds at the moment, but we intend to have 200 ponds by 2020. We expect to harvest 10 tones from each pond, which means that by 2020 we will have 2 000 tonnes from the aquaculture business.
“The shareholders [of the company] decided to go into this business of aquaculture because of the dwindling catches in the lake. So, really, the business of fisheries now as far as we are concerned as Maldeco lies in the aquaculture business because we know that if we put fish in the ponds, we are going to harvest so much from there unlike in the lake where we don’t know how much we are going to harvest,” she said.
In terms of aquaculture business, the company this year has planned to harvest 150 tonnes [of fish] and prospects are that next year, they will harvest 450 tons as the company is adding more ponds.
“We are supposed to harvest 10 tonnes from each pond and with 50 ponds we expect to harvest 500 tonnes per year,” said Ngwale.
Fisheries expert, Priscilla Nsandu, who is programmes assistant for Nepad Regional Fish Node at Luanar, hailed Maldeco for the open day, saying they learnt how they can feed fish right from when they are small to the time they are ready for harvest and sales.
“However, we would have loved to have as many farmers invited to meetings of this nature. If fish production is to be boosted in Malawi, there is need for farmers to learn best practices from Maldeco for them to replicate what Maldeco is doing in their ponds” she said, stressing that aquaculture should be piloted to small-scale farmers throughout the country.
Nsandu said fish is critical to the country because it could help in food security issues as well as combating malnutrition since it is the source of protein.
The aquaculture business is not operating without challenges, and the outstanding one is theft of fish in the ponds.
“People used to come during the night and harvest in most of our ponds such that our tonnage when harvesting was very low. But now that we solved it, we put flood lights, which means there are enough lights during the night. We have also increased the number of guards and we also have five patrol dogs and a gunner with registered guns who is always patrolling during the night,” said the Maldeco official.
The other challenge dogging the aquaculture business is birds’ predation, but the company has put strings across the pond to scare away the birds.
Maldeco’s turnover in 2013 grew by 41 percent above the prior year due to better care for fish, preventing spoilage and wastage, according to the PCL annual report.
The report, however, said a loss of nearly three times that of the previous year was incurred on account of high finance charges (122 percent above the prior year), high overheads due to unplanned security and the loss of potential revenue due to theft of fish. This year, said the company, attention will be placed on security of fish stocks, improving cash flows and cost reduction.