Aims and Objectives of the Project: Statement of the research problem and its general background
Developmental aid projects in the field of agriculture and nutrition, conducting technology transfer and help people to help themselves, have previously proven to be a significant contribution to improved welfare and prosperity in African countries and communities. A fundamental drawback often arising beyond project termination is sustainability, i.e. the long-lasting alleviation of the problems and challenges they were originally addressing. Especially smaller communities in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa can only benefit for a very limited time from the research or development being conducted during developmental aid projects. Mostly, projects are focusing on one or few specific aspects, as improving water quality, providing novel gear or implementing new technologies. These are, on their own, not considering the value chain that is important for the development of a sustainable local economy. A project considering the value chain of sustainable integrated agriculture (crops and plants) and aquaculture of endemic freshwater finfish production in rural areas would have the potential to overcome this bottleneck in sustainability.
Malawi’s economy is characterized mainly by agriculture; almost 90% of the populations are farmers, and with its rich water resources, the country has a long tradition in fishing and aquaculture as well. However, long-term balanced nutrition of the population is not secured, especially during extreme weather events. Starting from 2002, following a catastrophic drought event, Malawi government introduced a coupon system for synthetic fertilizers and seeds in order to increase agricultural production and to alleviate famine and malnutrition.
This “Farm Input Subsidy Program-FISP” is, unfortunately, facing a lot of problems, including leakage of coupons and subsequent bad targeting of the poor, tardy distribution and corruption. Therefore, we believe that alternatives for increasing agricultural productivity and food security in the country are essential.
In the suggested project, an integrated agriculture-aquaculture (IAA) system is used as a sustainable and ecological alternative for production of healthy and diversified groceries. More than 2 billion people worldwide suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, specifically in developing countries (The World Fish Center, 2015). Fish is rich in essential fatty acids and contains healthy protein but also many nutrients that do not occur in such quantity and diversity neither in cereals or other crops nor in meat. Examples are micronutrients like vitamin A, iron and zinc. Thus, fish makes an essential contribution to a healthy diet and in combination with the vegetables which can be produced in IAA systems, a complete alimentation on a sustainable basis can be provided. As part of a balanced diet, it can improve the health and wellbeing of millions of women, men and children across the globe.
IAA systems are aquatic agriculture systems that combine fish farming with growing of crops in a synergistic manner, utilizing small surface area and with minimum risk of environmental pollution owing to its inherent biofiltration. The only major input of organic matter is fish feed, which is being converted into fish protein and, through the faeces of the fish, into highly bioavailable organic fertilizers. The horticultural crops, e.g. vegetables, can grow twice faster and at higher plant densities resulting in four times higher productivity compared to traditional vegetable beds (E3 Worldwide.org). This results in reduced water consumption (Food and Water Watch, 2009), no usage of synthetic fertilizers and autonomy from the FISP program. If properly integrated in a mixed farm, fish feed can be produced locally from crops, insects or worms (Kroeckel et al., 2012; Gamula et al, 2013). Although, in general, reliable electricity sources are favorable for these production systems for pumping of water within the IAA system such integrated systems can also be operated without any support of electric pumps. In this case, floating rafts with hydroponic plants are directly integrated into the fish ponds (Fig. 1). IAA can thus be practiced by individuals, households and communities in the village, in sub-urban and urban areas.The suggested project focuses on linking several aspects along the value chain of sustainable agriculture and aquaculture of Oreochromis karongae as a favored and high quality source of protein for human nutrition by using IAA.
The full potential of IAA systems in Malawi has not been explored yet due to incoherent combination of farm enterprises, lack of information on associated costs, benefits and efficiencies of such systems, and lack of entrepreneurship skills. High feed cost and limited access to electricity grids often undermine implementation of more intense land-based aquaculture production system, especially in rural areas.
In summary, our approach is to (a) enhance the production of endemic fish species by breeding and hybridization, (b) establish a specialized solar powered hatchery and optimize rearing protocols, in order to improve the sustainable supply of fingerlings for ongrowing farms, (c) use an IAA system approach to integrate nutrient fluxes between animal and crop production, (d) implement training courses for local communities and smallholder farmers, thus ensuring capacity development and (e) monitor the changes in health status and food habits of local families and especially children and elderly people after implementation of the IAA system to ensure a benefit for the whole community and (f) facilitate establishment of a community agriculture-nutrition-health linkage innovation platform and networking with relevant institutions to safeguard sustainability beyond the project life cycle.