Improved Farming Practices Increase Fish Yields in Zambia
Esther Siazilo and her family have been living in the Nazilongo area of Kalomo district in the Southern Province of Zambia for 37 years. They produce maize, sunflowers and groundnuts and have a vegetable garden where they grow kale, tomatoes, onions and cabbage. In addition to producing crops, the family is also involved in fish farming, which they started in 2014 with the construction of a fishpond measuring 15 m x 10 m.
At the time the pond was constructed, Siazilo and her family did not have any knowledge of farming fish for consumption, but they were inspired to launch this business after Siazilo’s husband, Jones, discussed the idea with a fish farmer in Kalomo town.
By 2021, the Siazilo family had solidified their fish farming business and joined the Nabuyani Fish Farmers Cooperative. Through the cooperative’s collaboration with the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program implemented in Southern Africa and Moldova by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), Siazilo received technical support from two paired assignments involving U.S.-based volunteers virtually collaborating with local volunteers working on the ground.
The first assignment, in April 2021, focused on improving feed formulation. With support from local volunteer Abraham Muluku, head of the Nutrition Task Force at Zambia’s Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock headquartered in Lusaka, and New Jersey-based volunteer Dr. Juli-Anne Royes, an aquaculture consultant with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Siazilo learned how to formulate feed from local ingredients in addition to implementing recommended methods for fish feeding, applying feeding rates and keeping records.
The second assignment, in September 2021, was in pond construction and management. This time, local volunteer Twaambo Buumba and West Virginia-based volunteer Dr. Dan Miller taught Siazilo how to select sites, identify water sources and monitor water quality. They also recommended pond sizes and techniques for improving weed management, stocking density and pond fertilization. Both trainings included theoretical and practical information on fish farming.
After the first assignment, Muluku observed, “I was impressed by the commitment shown by Mrs. Siazilo as she was the one encouraging women in the community to participate in the practical aspects of formulating feed.”
It was therefore not surprising that the Siazilo family quickly put into practice what they had learned from the two assignments by implementing recommendations to improve feed quality, feeding rates, feeding methods, site selection, pond maintenance and record keeping. They also quickly saw the benefits of these changes.
During the August 2022 harvest, the family reaped over 300 kg of fish from one pond which had been stocked with 1,500 fingerlings. They sold the fish for $2.84 (ZMW45) per kg, which earned them approximately $794 (ZMW12,600). They then used their earnings to buy 3,500 fingerlings, which allowed them to stock two ponds with tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus)—filling one pond with 2,000 fingerlings and the other with 1,500 fingerlings.
Reflecting on the impact that the training had on her family’s fish harvest as a result of using improved inputs and management practices, Siazilo said, “I remember how disappointed I was when we started and only managed to harvest 75 kg of fish after stocking the pond with 1,500 fingerlings and rearing the fish for close to a year. At harvest, the fish were less than 100 g and we could not even sell them, so we just consumed them as a family. At the time I told my husband that I was not interested in fish farming anymore because I did not see the benefit.”
She then explained how she has inspired other women in her community to take up fish farming by sharing her knowledge and, with the help of her husband, training local women to farm. Together, 25 of these women have even formed a fish farming group and 10 of them have already constructed fishponds to start their farms. “I am so proud of my wife, especially the passion she has of encouraging other women to engage in fish farming,” said Jones Siazilo. “You can tell that she is happy with her achievements and willing to show others that they can do it as well.”
With the knowledge and skills they gained through F2F, the Siazilo family now has six fish ponds—four ponds measuring 25 m x 15 m, one pond measuring 15 m x 10 m and another measuring 10 m x 12 m. To ensure that they have a continuous supply of fish to satisfy their customers’ needs, they purchased quality fingerlings from professional hatcheries and commercial feed from a fish feed manufacturing company, which they alternate with the feed they produce themselves. With their earnings from fish sales, they also now have enough money to buy quality inputs for their crop production.