Oxfam partner organisation, the Blantyre Synod Development Commission, is helping communities in Phalombe, Malawi, tackle malnutrition by establishing fish farms. Elvis Sukali, Media and Communications Officer in Malawi, reports.
Gertrude Saima, a volunteer community-based lead farmer in Phalombe district of southern Malawi, attributes the significant drop in cases of child malnutrition in her village over the past five years to the development of fish farms championed by Oxfam partner organisation, the Blantyre Synod Development Commission (BSDC).
“I can say without fear that malnutrition has been alleviated in our village,” says Gertrude emphatically. “If you walk around the village you will not find malnourished children.”
Five years ago there was widespread malnutrition in Lomoliwa and surrounding villages. “There were a lot of children with malnutrition in the village and we used to spend a lot of time and money in caring for them because they were always sick,” Gertrude laments.
She says, however, that the people in her village knew they had the means to reduce malnutrition: the answer lay in availability of land and water. “We sat down with the village chief and agreed to start rearing fish in ponds. We had land and strength to dig the fish ponds, but we lacked the skills in managing the fish,” explains Gertrude.
The Lomoliwa villagers agreed to approach BSDC, an Oxfam partner organisation that had helped other communities in Phalombe district to dig fish ponds and start rearing fish.
BSDC taught the community basic skills of rearing fish, including how to properly construct fish ponds and prepare fish feed. The organisation took members of the community’s Chithaphwira group, of which Gertrude is a member, on an educational visit to learn about integrated agriculture and aquaculture (the practice of rearing fish in ponds alongside goats and ducks on the land).
“We are also rearing goats,” Gertrude says proudly. “We throw the goats’ droppings into the fish pond in order to stimulate the growth of fish food in the ponds.”
While BSDC worked closely with the Chithaphwira group, individual members of the community started digging their own fish ponds not only to increase their household income but also to provide their families with a source of protein.
“Blantyre Synod also taught us how to prepare the fish so that we get better nutrition out of it,” Gertrude says.
According to the draft Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II (MGDSII), the government’s overarching policy framework that will guide its poverty reduction programmes from 2011 to 2016, malnutrition is a serious development issue that needs attention in Malawi.
The MGDSII states that “Many children, especially in rural areas, are characterised by the high levels of nutrition disorders such as stunting, wasting and underweight. Although there have been some improvements in the past five years, the country continues to face challenges such as lack of awareness of nutrition issues by the general public.”
The Malawi Demographic and Health Survey 2010 shows that child malnutrition is widely prevalent in rural areas compared with urban areas, and 48% of children in rural areas are stunted compared with 41% in urban areas.
According to the survey, 16.6% of children in the Phalombe district are severely malnourished, while 49.3% are generally malnourished.
However, Gertrude and her fellow villagers in Lomoliwa now have the knowledge needed to tackle malnutrition. “Blantyre Synod has helped us a lot,” she smiles. “It is a friend indeed.”
The organisation has also taught the Lomoliwa villagers how to graft fruit trees. The village has blossoming orchards of mangoes and oranges in the backyards of most homesteads.
Smiling shyly in front of her orange trees, Marita Sinodi says she never thought she would ever have fruit trees of her own.
“Those that have money could buy oranges, but most of us didn’t have the privilege to eat oranges. Now I have oranges right around my house and can pick one and eat it any time I want,” she says proudly.