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Engaging China to revitalise Malawi’s fish industry

By Temwani Mgunda, originally published on mbc.mw.

Malawi’s fledgling fish industry is presently wallowing in a myriad of challenges, a scenario that makes it fail to register meaningful and sustainable growth.

The industry confronts such setbacks as failure to commercialise on a large scale, lack of access to training and technical resources, limited support from government extension services, high cost of fish feeds and shortage of fingerings on the market.

Local Malawian farmers harvesting fish from their pond.

For instance, on the commercial front, information has it that the increase in capture fisheries production is largely contributed by non-commercially viable species such as Usipa (Engraulicyprissardella). The number of fish farmers is slightly over 6,000 with shoddy ponds of varying sizes spread across the country while MALDECO Aquaculture Limited and Chambo Fisheries remain the only two major aquaculture companies.

In view of this sad observation, there is need for concerted efforts and involvement of different players if challenges constraining the growth and development of Malawi’s fisheries sector are to be dealt with successfully.

Experts are of the view that, on a wider scope, there is need for Malawi to tap technologies and expertise from such advanced countries as China to develop its fish industry, taking into consideration that the Chinese have the longest aquaculture tradition in the world, with extensive experience not only in commercialisation but also in breeding, pond management and feeding.

Of course, currently Malawi is substantially benefiting from the Chinese government through bilateral training programmes for its professionals in different cadres, including fisheries, but experts suggest that the country should fully exploit its bilateral relations with China through, among others, increased secondment of Chinese technicians to the Malawi aquaculture sector, financing and joint implementation of projects.

Andrew Saukani: Malawi needs to build a strong partnership with China.

Andrew Saukani, a beneficiary of the Chinese government scholarship in fisheries sciences, hails China’s fisheries technologies as being well advanced, hence they could help enhance Malawi’s struggling fish industry.

Saukani, who is also a lecturer at Malawi College of Fisheries, says China leads the world in terms of fish production and market volumes and as such he urges the Malawi Government to look up to China to help revitalise the country’s struggling fish industry.

“We need to build a strong partnership with more developed partners such as China if Malawi is going to make progress with its fish industry as envisioned in the country’s (Malawi’s) National Fisheries Policy,” he says.

As for specifically which areas to prioritise, Saukani singles out adoption of modern fish production technologies, genetic manipulation of local species in the face of policies against introduction, capacity building and modernisation of research facilities and formalising joint investment deals in aquaculture and capture fisheries with China.

Various local experts agree that Malawi’s aquaculture sub-sector has potential to increase fish production through enhanced production, especially at commercial level; hence improving supply of fish protein, creation of wealth and employment and fish product exports.

While there is unlimited growth potential for pond and cage culture, poor growth of cultured species and high costs of feeds remain notorious stumbling blocks in the country’s quest to boost its fish industry.

Assistant Deputy Director of Fisheries (Planning) in the Malawi Department of Fisheries, Dr. Friday Njaya, says currently there is need to speed up research and implementation of new innovations and technologies such as genetic improvement of local species and formulation of low cost improved fish feed—which, according to Saukani, the Chinese can ably step in and assist.

“As the country’s focus is towards commercial aquaculture, farmers should be encouraged to use bigger ponds as a way of embracing entrepreneurship,” says Njaya.

And as a way of attracting more investors in the local fish industry, the Malawi Investment Trade Centre in its compendium has bankable projects within fishery exploitation and aquaculture along Lake Malawi, thus breaking MALDECO Fisheries’ dominance as the country’s sole and largest commercial fishing company.

Commercial fish farming: A viable option

Lake Malawi has a record over 800 endemic fish species, which are of both local and international scholarly importance and also act as a tourist attraction. But scientific evidence points to the sad realisation that most fish species are either extinct or unexploited due to their geographical distribution. This has brought about a new dimension to fishing patterns with most artisanal fishers crammed in the coastal areas.

Julius Paipi, a commercial fisher based in Mangochi, fears that artisanal and commercial fishers will remain concentrated in shallow areas if no means will be devised of availing fishers with deep shore fishing equipment. He says currently there is huge modification of fishing gears and equipment by increasing the engine horsepower, disregard to required mesh sizes and perpetual fishing in undesignated zones in a race against the same fish targeted for conservation.

Malawi’s fishery is open accessed and a cross-section of artisanal and commercial fishers interviewed in Nkhata Bay and Mangochi districts were of the view that unexploited fish stocks in deep waters of Lake Malawi present an opportunity to initiate private-public partnership deals by essentially providing high powered equipment for deep water fishery. This will in the long run contribute to increased fish catch output for domestic consumption, export market and creation of more jobs for people.

Agnes Mkailayinga, a Zomba-based fish farmer, retaliates that commercial fish farming could be a more viable option in addressing household protein deficiencies and economic security if attempts were made to improve production of fish feeds and fingerlings. She challenges that most subsistence fish farmers are resource constrained to expand to commercial levels even if breakthroughs were made in improved local fish strains.

Dr. Emmanuel Kaunda: The focus should be on commercialisation.

However, Professor Emmanuel Kaunda, an aquaculture researcher based at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), is full of optimism that aquaculture has great potential to significantly contribute to economic development by targeting large-scale operations, promoting business culture at various levels of operation (small, medium or large) and addressing challenges of low cost fish feed and fish strains which, he hopes, institutions of higher learning and international partners such as China can take a lead.

 

What next?

Against this gloomy background for Malawi’s fish industry, one cannot be faulted for concurring with Saukani that among the most viable options for revitalising the country’s stunted fish industry is to engage the Chinese who are quite advanced in many aspects regarding fish farming.

“Through China’s opening up policy and benefactors embracing of One China Policy, Malawi has a wider opportunity of tapping China’s advances through, among others, South-South cooperation agreements, private public partnerships, bilateral technical agreements and loans to breathe full life into its fish industry,” advises Saukani.

On the other hand, apart from helping Malawi improve its aquaculture, Saukani says there are also opportunities for China to invest in Malawi’s fish industry as part of the commercialisation drive of this largely ignored field of agriculture in the country.

“In so doing, China will not only help to impart expertise but also create jobs, improve Malawi’s nutrition status and empower local fish farmers economically,” he says.

This work was produced as a result of a grant provided by the Africa-China Reporting Project managed by the Journalism Department of the University of the Witwatersrand.

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