*Malawi fish consumption to decline to zero in 23 years*

Poor rural Malawians’ most affordable source of protein us at stake as a recent Ministry of Finance and Development’s 2011 Economic valuation of Sustainable Natural Resource Use report indicates that consumption will decline to zero in 23 years due to unsustainable fishing in natural bodies.

Fisheries resources contribute to the livelihoods of more than 1.6 million Malawians. Almost 60,000 individuals are employed as fishers, and about 450,000 are engaged in fisheries-related economic activities.

“Per capita consumption was at 9.4 kg in 1990, but declined to 5.4 kg by 2008. Unless mitigating interventions are fully supported and implemented, consumption might decline to zero in 23 years.

“Fish has been traditionally the most affordable source of protein among most Malawian, especially for the rural communities. Fish prices have significantly increased from MK52 per kilogram (US$0.54) in 2003 to MK116 per kilogram (US$0.83) in 2007, making fish less affordable to more people that before.

“It is very likely that many people simply reduce their protein intake when faced with steep increases in real fish prices. It is estimated that around 66% of the Malawian population does not consume the minimum protein calories required,” the reports said.

However, these and many other official figures on fisheries have not been revised for some time, reflecting the data gaps that exist in the sub-sector, as in all natural resources.

Due to this unsustainable fishing trends, the reports says the Sub-Saharan country is expected to lose $28 million (about MK4.6 billion) worth of fisheries resources each year due to unsustainable fishing in natural bodies, an estimate which represents 0.8 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

“Aquaculture production is still very low, staggering at around 2000 tonnes per annum, and contributing only about 2 percent of the total fish production of Malawi each year.

It says due to a multiplicity of factors (increasing population, declining stocks, overfishing, increase exportation, among other), there has been a marked decline in per capita fish consumption in recent 45 years.

The landed value of fish was MK9.4 billion (US$67.1 million) in 2008, a significant contribution to the economy’s total output. Traditionally, fish has been the most affordable source of animal protein, but the real price of fish (after accounting for inflation) has increased by about 3.5 times over the period 1987 – 2007.

“Over the same period, the population of Malawi grew by about 61 percent from 7.9 million to about 12.7 million, while total fish supply has fallen by 20 percent.

“The poor are least able to replace this lost source of protein. Rural households may switch to more costly and demanding alternatives in the form of keeping livestock. Those without this option have to spend an increasing proportion of their scarce income on substitutes, or make do without the protein,” reads part of the report.

As around 66 percent of the population does not even consume the minimum calories required, the report says it is very likely that these mainly rural people simply reduce their protein intake when faced with steep increases in real fish prices.

Between 1987/88 and 1995 the fisheries sub-sector experienced a sharp decline in production from natural waters but this trend experienced something of a reversal between 1998 and 2007. However, the experience has varied within segments of the fisheries industry.

The artisanal catch in Lake Malawi had recovered fully by 2004 and now exceeds the 1987 level while the catch has declined over the period in all other types of fishing.

While the output of cultured species, valued at US$ 1.4 million in 2008, has grown by 52 percent over the period 2000 – 2008, it still only contributes about 2 percent of total fish production and is very far from meeting the excess demand for fish.

The report, apart from over-fishing and rapid population growth, has found that climate change is affecting the sustainability of aquaculture production as increase in drought frequency may affect the life span of the ponds by accelerating their drying up.

Among the recommendation, the report says there should be concerted efforts towards restoration of the degraded environment for fish breeding and growth in order to assist recovery of fishery resource and a need to develop models relating to biophysical and chemical nutrient effects to fisheries.

“There is need for specialized training to create capacity for handling methodological aspects of understanding the effects of climatic changes on fisheries resources, strengthening coordination and leadership for the implementation of activities that includes harmonizing of efforts towards fisheries development.

“There is need to sensitize the population to adopt the integrated aquaculture -agriculture intervention initiatives, in order to spread its benefits, government should lead in investing in the development of clear monitoring mechanisms and the adaptation measures targeting to overcome the unsustainable fishery resource use and government and other stakeholders should promote cage culture that uses locally found materials such as bamboo would be a suitable venture for small scale farmers along the lakes,” the report says.

To complement this response from the government, Bunda Collegeof Agriculture was in June 2006 designated as a node for SANBio on fisheries and aquatic sciences related research and development activities within the region.

Under this programme, there is a Community Action Research Programme (CARP) – fish project which aims to increase fish productivity among 60 farmers in
the upland districts of Dowa and Mchinji from 750 kilograms to 1.500 producing around 21 000 kilograms through.

“This will enable farmers to have alternative sources of fish other than keeping on pressurizing the lakes and rivers which have, over the past time become deserts on their own,” said the project Coordinator Emmanuel Kaunda.

Kaunda said SANBio will also try to lobby for the government’s inclusion of fisheries among the top priorities in the development agendas.

“Fish farming has shown that it has had a beach value of about MK1.5 billion (about US$21 million), and contributed about four percent to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The fish industry supports nearly 1.6 million people in lakeshore communities and makes substantial contributions to their livelihoods, by supporting approximately nine percent, 18 percent, 15 percent, nine percent and 30 percent of the people in lakeshore districts, as well as six percent of the people in the Lower Shire Valley derive their livelihood from fishing.

“Within the agricultural and natural resources sector, fisheries is the second largest employer, second from the crop sector.

It has the largest number of employees (4) per enterprise, compared to 3.8 under crops; it generates the largest profit per employee per hour (K50.15) (2002 figures) compared to mining (K16.64) and crops (K5.94). So if we put more emphasis on it, for sure, the economy of the country will grow,” he said.

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