FLOATING cage aquaculture has helped Iringa fish farmers increase their income since they adopted the technology to cope with environmental changes and reducing over dependence on forests.
With the help of the Eastern Arc Mountains Conservation Endowment Fund (EAMCEF), the fishermen have built floating cage ponds that they have placed near their homes.
One of the farmers, Alfa Mwamasika of Itonya village, Kilolo District, Iringa Region, has ten cages which he uses as ponds to breed fish and keeps monitoring them.
In an interview with the 'Business Standard,' he said that each of the pond, which measures 2.5 square metres, is used to breed 600 fish, which take between five and six months before harvesting. "Each fish goes for 100/-, which earns us a total of 100,000/- per cage," said Mr Mwamasika.
He said they usually have a series of meetings to teach villagers how to breed the fish in the cages and a few safety precautions. The cages are made from metals that are placed together and held afloat using empty jerrycans. The 'walls' of the submerged fish ponds are made from nets which are tied to the metal bars.
He said that the group specifically breeds the tilapia nilotica and the tilapia exlentus (which is white in colour). "Initially we mixed males and females in the same cage but we realised that the males were smaller in size when they were harvested, so we decided to breed females only," he said.
The farmers sell their fish to several hotels, depending on their demand. "We never lack markets and we harvest them when they are just 500 grammes or plate size, because the hotels prefer the size," he said. This form of fish farming, according to him, is good since the fish is kept in a clean environment.
He said he sells most of his fish - raising enough money to buy maize when the harvest is poor and to help feed and clothe the orphaned children she takes in. "Before we had the ponds, this area suffered from a lot of poverty," she explains. "We didn't eat meat and we lacked any source of income.
"But with the coming of the fish ponds, we had so much leftover to sell, I had enough money left over to buy fertiliser, with the government subsidy," he said. When the ponds are emptied, a rich layer of silt can be dug from the base - to use as fertiliser. Some people use the residue to grow maize, which in turn ensures that goats and chicken keep popping out manure for the pond.
Mwamasika and Tulagawa are just examples of many people who are engaged in fish farming in five rural villages. The Kilolo District fish farming project coordinator Alistide Nsuma, told the 'Business Standard' that the villagers have been trained on fish farming best practices provided by local experts.
"Many people have accepted the idea whereby every village started with three fish ponds, but there are villages like Itonya which has 78 fish ponds. People have realized the benefits of the project," he said. He said the market is no longer a challenge as every villager is interested with fish, adding that for the last three years, the number of ponds has gone up to 78 in some villages.
He said that across Kilolo District there are about 303 fish ponds and fish farming contribute 0.389 tonnes of fish every year. "The project has doubled income of affected households, increased consumption of fresh fish (and) increased production of maize through the production of second and off-season crop," Nsuma says.
"Integration of aquaculture into agriculture systems aims to use existing onfarm resources such as livestock manure, brans from maize and rice - whether from (one's) own farm or (a) neighbour's farm - to produce fish, while at the same time using water harvested in ponds for irrigation of crops." In fact, the rain-fed ponds enabled farmers to become 20 per cent more productive than their peers during times of drought, thanks to the water retention as well as the nutrients left over at the bottom of the pond.
"They do dry up in times of drought, but since drought is more short term," on the order of one or two months, Nsuma says, "ponds are able to hold water longer." Hence, farmers can adapt their production quickly by using the pond water and the water supply systems to grow irrigated maize."
The ponds are also efficient, producing 1,500 kilogrammes of fish for every hectare of pond on just scraps and with minimal labour, allowing them to be tended relatively easily. "If you had only seen the benefits this community has had from eating these fish," says the 50-year-old, wading in, "then you will know why I will never give my pond away," says Cosmas Haule, one of the farmers.
He said they are introducing smallscale aquaculture to ensure families have enough food and income to buy maize - even in years when drought affects their crops. The project assists farmers by digging small, rain-fed ponds of about 10x15m on their land or anywhere the soil is suitable for retaining water. Families like Haule's use the ponds to rear common fish species.
Haule uses manure from his goats and chickens to keep the pond high in nutrients which allow plankton to thrive. The fish eat the plankton and when they grow to full size, they are harvested, usually every six months. He sells most of her fish - raising enough money to buy maize when the harvest is poor and to help feed and clothe the orphaned children he takes in. "Before we had the ponds, this area suffered from a lot of poverty," he explains. "We didn't eat meat and we lacked any source of income.