The Ngoni people of Mzimba are well known for herding cattle and eating meat.
The district has a large herd of cattle and other livestock usually seen grazing along the roads.
However, fish farming is emerging as one of the potential farm enterprises in the vast district, located far away from Lake Malawi, the country’s main source of fish.
Where water resources are available and land is ideal, communities are constructing ponds to reap multiple benefits of fish production.
According to district fisheries officer James Pelani, Mzimba has 613 fish farmers with 625 ponds covering over 20 hectares.
“We are bound to achieve more than the target stipulated in the District Development Plan. The demand for fish farming is high in Mzimba,” Pelani says.
According to M’belwa District Development Plan adopted in 2017, the district is projected to have 665 fish ponds and 36 communal demonstration ponds covering 150 hectares by 2022.
The council has adopted an integrated approach for socio-economic transformation of the people.
“Knowing the possible linkages of one intervention to the other, we look at fish farming beyond food and income but also in integration with other sectors such as agriculture, health and natural resources management. This is proving successful” Pelani explains.
For him, fish is a much sought-after commodity in Mzimba.
Due to the long distance from the lake, manmade ponds have become a trusted source of fresh fish.
Owing to the huge demand for fresh fish, catches sell at an average price of K2 500 per kilogramme.
“Fish farmers realise up to K1.2 million in fish sales from a single harvest. This is big money,” he states.
The “big money” is motivating many farmers to venture into fish production.
Mzimba fisheries office, with support from other development partners, is stocking communal dams with fingerlings to popularise fish farming in the cow-herding district.
“We have 21 standard dams in the district and we plan to stock all of them this year. So far, we have stocked five,” says Pelani.
The stocked communal dams are managed by village fishery dam management committees.
Fish farming in Mzimba is being promoted through individuals and clubs comprising men, women and the youth.
Makazi fish farming club in Manyamula is one of the 40 groups that have embraced fish production as big business.
The group comprise fish farmers and a fingerling producer.
Club chairperson Grant Mtonga said fish farming has become a beneficial income generation activity as some farmers now own decent housing, savings and food reserves.
The club is wooing more members to expand into a corporative.
“Through the club, we regulate fish harvests to avoid flooding the market and reducing prices,” he states.
Youth involvement is reducing the country’s massive unemployment rate, which forces boys and girls to flee to South Africa.
Although Mzimba is demonstrating the potential and determination to make fish farming grow, officials and community members decry unavailability of loans to support the expansion of fish production, which requires huge capital and equipment investments.
Makazi fish farming group have had their loan proposals rebuffed by commercial banks, claiming that fish farming was a risky business.
But GIZ is supporting Aquaculture Value Chain for Food Security and Incomes Project in partnership with the Department of Fisheries, has partnered with NBS Bank to provide agriculture financing.
The loan seeks to close the gaps on both the supply and demand sides of small-scale farmer’s farmer organisations and entrepreneurs. Fish farmers also benefit.
The World Bank through Agriculture Commercialisation (Agcom) project also provides matching grants to farming entrepreneur groups.
According to the district fisheries office, Mzimba has shown potential for fish farming, which is projected to grow at 70 percent per year.