AS a taxi driver, Christopher Mwita never overlooked anything on the way when he transported his passengers to their various destinations. Thanks to his inquisitiveness, he has now developed a home-based occupation that keeps his curiosity and family attention in fish ponds.
At age 34, Mwita says he has no more time to tout commuters but fish customers. “With determination,” he says, “anyone thinking of long-term investment in fish farming has all the chances of benefiting over the long term.”
From a humble beginning, he has made a name for himself in fish farming and environment protection not just around his home Rebu Village of Tarime District but also throughout Mara Region and in a number of public institutions in Tanzania.
Within a short span of time, as he attests, fishery business has made the difference between Mwita’s current status and the 15 years he spent on the road trying to make both ends meet.
“I started this project as an alternative source of income and as a way of supplementing the diet for my family. But the outcome has gone beyond my expectations. Many people in East Africa know my fish business and my name comes up whenever they think about a similar venture,” Mwita told THISDAY, explaining how he has become a source of information for experts and farmers as well.
“Soon after the project took off, it attracted the attention of extension officers at the district level and academics from Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Morogoro. Later on other universities within and out of the country sent delegations to see what I was doing, particularly for their own academic interests,” he said.
From time immemorial fish business has always played an important part in man’s livelihood both at local and international levels. International fish trading and consumption have increased very rapidly in recent decades, necessitating producing nations to keep their eyes wide open and take measures that aim to ensure the survival and profitability of this industry.
While the business is facilitated by the widespread use of trawlers, refrigeration and modern transportation and communication technologies, developing countries have not done enough to ensure the conservation of the natural resources that form the basis of the fishing industry.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the state of wild inland fishery resources is poorly known. The situation has raised great concern in many countries not just because fish stocks are dwindling but more due to its environmental impact.
Though many people relish fish aquaculture is not widely practised in Tanzania. Catches from the country’s waters, both inland and the sea, are not enough to meet the rising demand. This partly explains why fish farming holds a great potential in spite of the fact that many would see it as crazy business to wallow in the mud every day taking care of the slippery creatures.
Mwita and others who undertake this business on a small scale as a source of proteins and nutrients in the diet of their families eventually come up with commercial ideas because they cannot consume the whole stocks in their ponds. Rewards of fish farming are endless as long as there are enough feeds and water to fill the ponds.
The market for fish is growing daily and as more and more people become enlightened about nutrition and the need for proteins in their diet, buyers will always be in the market for fish.
Mwita has pioneered fish farming and another form of self-employment in a district where a large section of the population stays poor because of joblessness.
Tanzania has no concrete statistics on self-employment, but general evidence suggests that people who work for themselves like Mwita are increasing. They may not be making enough money to ease the burden of supporting their families and other dependants in the present economy, but self-employment for many is far more than income.
As business succeeds, taking Mwita as a typical example, it becomes a source of identity. Fish farming has made Mwita a regular participant of agricultural shows and events related to environment conservation besides being a reference person for researchers on fish farming in the East Africa region.
After observing the way Mwita combines his other farm activities with fish farming, Amon Shoko, a senior official of Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute (TAFIRI), described him as a role model for would-be fish farmers.
“Integrating fish farming with other on farm activities improves yields of fish and other crops on his farm. He does not regard the fish as game but he gives it due attention like other livestock,” said Shoko
Several government officials who have visited Mwita’s farm left impressed and urged Tarime District authorities to back his initiative while encouraging other people to learn fish farming technologies from it. The farmer raises catfish and tilapia.
Mwita started the project with a small pond measuring 6 x 5 metres. After attending some courses on fish farming conducted by TAFIRI, he expanded the farm and constructed five breeding ponds measuring 20x20 metres each and four hatcheries measuring 5x2 metres each.
After running for about four years, the farm is now officially registered as a business under the name of Rebu Integrated Fish Farming.
Visitors to the farm usually admire the way Mwita links poultry and fish farming. He has built his chicken runs on stalks that are fixed in the ponds so that chick droppings go straight into the water as feed for the fish.
When the water is drawn for irrigation of nearby vegetable plots, it’s already laden with fertilizer and the vegetables are used as feed for chickens and rabbits raised on the same farm.
“Besides fish, I get eggs and meat from the fowls and other animals reared in the huts. As an integrated farming project, I find the venture to be very lucrative. In addition, I grow maize on the same farm,” Mwita said.
Mwita turned to fish farming in earnest in 2005 and he has since been the flag bearer of Tarime District at several national and international food, agricultural and environmental exhibitions.
For the first time in 2008, he took part in the World Environment Day celebrations and was picked as the Best District Environmental Conservator. The following year he was named as best farmer and livestock keeper at the national Farmers Day celebrations.
Besides TAFIRI, he paid tribute to his customers. including individual farmers and institutions such as Heifer International, Mogabiri farmers Centre, Kowak Barak Sisters both from Tarime and Mama Lita Fisheries from Dar es Salaam for contributing to his success.
“It all started as a small project, but now it’s becoming more challenging,” Mwita said, explaining that he needs to inject in more capital to be able to cope with the increasing fish production and management of farm activities.
His future plans entail construction of a multi-purpose hall that could be used for training other farmers and accommodating visitors to the farm.
Mwita wants his farm to become a centre for fish breeding and distribution to farmers and a destination for visitors with a keen interest in aquaculture.
In his own way, Mwita has taken a major stride towards the goal of Kilimo Kwanza to make this nation self-sufficient in food production.
According to experts, the fish farming potential in many parts of Tanzania is immense and the residents of Tarime District are lucky to have Mwita taking the lead to freshwater aquaculture in their neighbourhood.
Tarime District can accommodate many integrated fish farming projects because it has a conducive environment, according to the district’s agriculture and livestock development officer, Silvernus Gwiboha.
For a successful development of fish farming, however, personal commitment is vital. In addition to that farmers must realise their obligation to conserve natural resources on which the industry depends.
Raising catfish in well-managed ponds in the rural areas can take many Tanzanians a long way out of poverty and malnutrition.
Fish farming has been tried in various parts of Tanzania as a stand-alone activity. But, stand-alone fish farms can be risky ventures, especially for resource-poor farmers because of the environmental effects, such as pollution and economic factors such as the price volatility.
Integrated farming systems enhance ecological sustainability since wastes are recycled, thus reducing their potential for environmental pollution.
Moreover, farm generated inputs are biodegradable, unlike those of industrial origin. On this basis this kind of integrated systems has been recommended for small-scale farmers as a model of fish farming for food and maximum income generation.