The idyll in the south of Tanzania is deceptive. Many young people are moving to the cities. Those who stay behind struggle with dwindling fish stocks, malnutrition and poverty. A fish farming project promises new perspectives.
The project aims to promote economically, socially and environmentally sustainable fish farming in southern Tanzania. This improves the livelihoods of coastal communities, combats rural poverty and promotes food security. At the same time, it reduces pressure on mangrove deforestation and wild fish stocks.
This project is co-financed by the SDC program contribution.
Palm trees are swaying in the wind. The waves of the Indian Ocean are lapping lazily against the white sandy beach. In the distance a few Ngalawas, local fishing boats, are bobbing. Life in the village of Mchinga seems peaceful. But appearances are deceiving. “Our traditional fishing methods are no longer enough to feed us,” says fisherman Hamis Magawila, 48. “Often the waves are too stormy for our fishing boats.” The Ngalawas are left high and dry, and the pickings are meagre. Increasing overfishing puts additional pressure on the fishermen.
The coastal district of the Lindi region is one of the poorest communities in Tanzania. The majority of the population barely manages to live on subsistence farming. The main crops are cassava, maize and millet. Livestock farming is rare. Fish is the only source of animal protein.
Reviving the fish farming
In order to give the fishing families a livelihood, SWISSAID is helping to revive local fish farming. This creates an alternative to unsafe wild fish farming. As part of the project, 70 breeding ponds for saltwater fish and around 20 breeding ponds for freshwater fish are being either repaired or newly built and made fit for use in order to breed milkfish or tilapia.
The project aims to help 1,000 fishing families to build, operate and profit from saltwater and freshwater fish breeding ponds. The photo shows a family with fresh food for the fish.
From the pond to the counter
The demand for fish is high, especially further inland. Yet getting the fish from the pond to the sales counter is challenging: the fish must be adequately fed, the pond walls properly reinforced and the water quality must be correct. Fish thieves and wild animals only add to the workload. Fishermen are trained on how to deal with the different challenges. Hamis Magawila is participating in the fish farming project. He believes that farming fish will bring him important income opportunities and more food security.
The fish breeding ponds not only bring fresh fish to the coastal population on a daily basis. The project also includes environmental protection activities such as the reforestation of 16 hectares of mangrove forest. Many mangroves have been destroyed for firewood and salt mining. Mangroves form a crucial protective barrier against both coastal erosion and constantly rising sea levels and storm surges. This natural protection is more important than ever in times of climate change. Sustainable fish farming practices are also reducing pressure on nearshore fish stocks.
The 360-kilometre coastline in Lindi is lined with mangroves and estuaries suitable for fish farming. The ponds are fed by the tides.
Fish are also women's business
In addition to fish farming itself, the project also includes the empowerment of women. Widowed or divorced women in particular have a difficult time in the coastal region. Fish farming has traditionally been exclusively for men. Recently, that has changed for Bilaya Mbano: “Now we share the tasks and work together,” says the 55-year-old. As part of the project, 400 women are being trained in fish farming and empowered as active and contributing members in local fishing groups.
Bilaya Mbano lets her eyes wander out to sea: “The fish farming project will help me feed my family.” Hope resonates in her voice. Perhaps the idyll is a ripple closer to reality than she thought.