More than half of Malawi’s people live in a state of chronic food insecurity. Poverty, extreme weather events and a hardly diversified agriculture sector are the main structural reasons for the situation.
In addition, the country is currently experiencing a steep rise in food prices, which is caused by a number of factors:
- The COVID-19 pandemic
- Severe lean seasons
- The impact of the war in Ukraine
- High budget deficits
- National debt
All of this makes it more difficult for Malawians to sustain both a big enough calorie intake as well as a sufficiently diversified nutritious diet.
Like most African countries, Malawi depends on fish as a source of protein, fatty acids and micronutrients. However, fish stocks in most Malawian water bodies have decreased substantially over the past four decades, which is one reason why the animal protein supply from fish has dropped from 70 percent to less than 30 percent.
As the country’s population is projected to exceed 29 million by 2030 — compared to 19.13 million in 2020 — the demand for fish and fish products is expected to increase massively.
Aquaculture has the potential to fill the demand-supply gap
It is estimated that 10 to 25 percent of Malawi’s land area is suitable for warm-water aquaculture in earth ponds, and Lake Malawi with a surface area of 29,000 km² can be used for cage aquaculture.
Right now the fisheries and aquaculture sector contributes about one percent to the country’s gross domestic product — which is negligible and therefore signifying the tremendous potential for expansion.
Through the development of a sustainable aquaculture sector in Malawi, production could be supported to meet the increase in demand for fish, mitigate food insecurity, sustain the livelihoods of actors along the value chain and protect Malawi’s aquatic biodiversity.
Any development within the sector is anticipated to lead to an improved supply of fish protein in both rural and urban areas while reducing the fishing pressure on Lake Malawi.
Positive examples from Africa
Several other African countries, such as Egypt, Nigeria, and Kenya, have already successfully started aquaculture to fill the gap in supply left by dwindling fish stocks.
This trend can be observed across the continent: The volume of aquaculture production in Africa went up almost five-fold over the past two decades while its value rose almost ten-fold.
Not only do such examples show that there are successful efforts to absorb declining fishing yields. They’re also living proof that aquaculture can be a lucrative business that creates employment and can contribute to livelihood diversification. A prerequisite for the growth of the sector is an enabling environment that supports already existing small and medium-scale enterprises as well as the emergence of large-scale operations.
The policies and the players
Selected policies, such as the National Aquaculture Strategic Plan (NASP) II 2021-2031 or the Malawi Vision 2063 promote the development of Malawi’s aquaculture sector. The project Aquaculture Value Chain for Higher Income and Food Security in Malawi (AVCP), which is part of the global programme Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture, supports the objectives outlined by the Government of Malawi.
Together with the Department of Fisheries as well as other national and international partners, the project develops the technical and organisational (business) capacities of micro, small and medium enterprises, fish farmer groups and smallholder fish farmers across 17 districts.
Through the promotion of aquaculture as an environmentally friendly, inclusive and nutrition-sensitive value chain, Aquaculture Value Chain for Higher Income and Food Security in Malawi aims to provide the food insecure population with more fish products and a higher income from sustainable aquaculture in pond farming.
Overcoming challenges in the sector calls for innovative thinking
To improve the productivity of rural small-scale aquaculture in the country and its contribution to household nutrition, Aquaculture Value Chain for Higher Income and Food Security in Malawi, in cooperation with the GIZ sector project Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture (SV Fish), developed a novel intermittent harvesting technology.
The size-selective fish trap allows fish farmers to better control the stocking density of their ponds, optimize the use of supplementary feeds, and improve household consumption of small, nutritious fish as well as cash flow. The trap catches the smaller juvenile offspring of the initial fish stock, allowing parent fish to continue to grow to a larger size until the final harvest.
On-farm trials with six households over a period of three months have shown that around 120 small fish (an equivalent of 820 grams) were caught on average for each intermittent harvest (27 harvests in total), without adversely affecting overall productivity.
Over the period of the trials, the intermittent harvest led to an increase in fish consumption at the household level from a maximum of one to four times a month to twice a week.
The intermittent harvesting technology represents a convenient, low-cost (about 3 USD) tool that can make an effective contribution to food security in Malawi as well as in other countries with similar production systems and conditions as there is potential for adoption and scaling-up.
While there are no data about the trap’s longer-term impact yet, it showcases the innovative potential of Malawi’s aquaculture sector. It is, however, anticipated that developing the nation’s fish production from aquaculture will ultimately increase resilience — improved resource use, less dependency on imports, more diversified sources of income, etc.— and food security in times of climatic and external shocks, ensuring good nutrition for even the most vulnerable.
About aquaculture’s potential for food and nutrition security worldwide
The topic of aquaculture as the sector draws its relevance for development cooperation from the fact that aquaculture is increasingly filling the gap in supply due to heavily declining fish stocks.
Since 1990, global aquaculture production has increased from 100 million tonnes per year, and global aquaculture production exceeded that of capture fisheries for the first time in 2013/14.
This being said, Africa’s contribution to global aquaculture production remains minimal, i.e. under 5 percent — highlighting the great potential for expansion.
All this will ultimately have a positive impact on employment, income and the resilience of countries like Malawi. In addition, technologies such as the intermittent harvesting technology are cheap, easy to scale up and apply in countries with similar production systems and conditions.