Willard has been fishing on the shores of Lake Malombe in the Republic of Malawi for over 40 years. This fisherman is from Chipalamawamba, a village in the south of the country. He explains that over the years environmental degradation and overfishing of the lake have taken a heavy toll on the fish and the plight of local fishermen.
“The number of fish started to decline years ago,” Willard recalls. “All the banana plantations were destroyed, the grasses and trees were cut down to build houses, and now the banks of the river and the lake are bare. The fish do not have enough breeding sites ”.
With its many lakes, this landlocked African country has a rich fishing tradition, and nearly 1.6 million people living in riparian communities depend on fishing for their lives and livelihoods.
Lake Malombe has seen its fish species disappear and its ecosystem deteriorate
Niklas Mattson, FAO chief technical officer in Malawi, says several species of fish, including the popular Chambo, a type of tilapia, have all but disappeared in recent years.
“Lake Malombe is on average only three meters deep, and tilapia build nests at the bottom to reproduce. But nkacha nets, which are the most common, tend to destroy these nests and cause turbulence, which disrupts the fish and their reproduction, ”says Mattson.
Small-scale fishermen also compete with large fishermen, who have larger boats and more sophisticated fishing gear and nets. This activity not only decimates the number of fish, it also damages the breeding areas of the lake.
© FAO / Shaibu Rice
Environmental degradation and overfishing in Lake Malombe have taken a heavy toll on local fishermen, such as Alfred Juma
Climate change also threatens the future productivity of the lake, as changes in temperature and fluctuating precipitation impact fish, their habitat and biodiversity.
“The local culture has always placed a great value on fishermen, but today fishermen are struggling to make ends meet,” says Mattson.
Build resilience and combat the impact of environmental degradation
FAO is working with the Malawi Fisheries Department and the Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources to build resilience and address the impact of environmental degradation in the fisheries sector, particularly among communities bordering the lake. Malombe.
Supported by the Global Environment Facility, the project, entitled Fisheries Resilience for Malawi (FIRM), promotes an ecosystem approach to fisheries management, a holistic approach to the management of fisheries and living aquatic resources and the promotion of the conservation and sustainable use of the entire ecosystem.
Local communities face additional pressures from climate change
“In addition to overfishing, local communities face additional pressures from climate change. So this project is really a matter of urgency, ”says Mr. Mattson, who leads FAO’s efforts for FIRM.
Alongside village chiefs and local entities known as Beach Village Committees, the fishermen learned about conservation measures designed to regenerate the quality and quantity of fish in the lake and to safeguard their environment.
Fishermen and their families also learn about weather trends and extreme events.
“We are in a vicious cycle,” says Mattson. “If climate variability increases, people will be more vulnerable than they should be, unless resources are managed differently.”
With the support provided through the project, the community set about “bringing the fish back” and developing an action plan to adopt new regulations and create two no-fishing zones. , in order to provide fish with habitats that promote their reproduction and growth.
According to Nevarson Msusa, a fisheries official in the district, the project has already had a positive effect on the management of the local fishery.
“The community members have fully embraced the conservation measures,” he says. “Trees have been planted, the banks of the river are better managed, fishing gear and activities are more controlled and populations and the number of species of fish are increasing.”
The training empowered fishermen
Alfred Juma, a 40-year-old fisherman who participated in the project, says the training empowered fishermen and gave them skills to assess their resources and environmental issues, and how to take appropriate action.
“We have all taken responsibility for managing the fishery, and we have seen an improvement in our fish species and our catch,” says Alfred. “The increase in sales of fish has a big impact on our livelihoods.”
© FAO / Niklas Mattson
FAO helps communities ‘bring back the fish’ by improving fisheries management and control of illegal fishing
Anasi Devi, a fisherwoman from Mwalija village, agrees. “For the first time in my life, I heard fishermen partying and community members chanting and singing! », She said. “The celebration of a bountiful catch in Mwalija was amazing. Women ran up the hill to call us; we saw the take with our own eyes! Our sanctuaries are full of fish ”.
Illegal fishing practices have also been highlighted and communities have stepped up aquatic patrols and efforts to reduce the use of destructive fishing gear, such as mosquito nets, which are used to sweep up juvenile fish and eggs. . The FIRM also encourages seasonal restrictions that help restore fish numbers.
Apart from conservation measures, the project also promotes small-scale cage aquaculture and deep-pond technology for the breeding of local tilapia. As water availability is limited during the dry season in Malawi, deeper ponds are used which increase the water volume and make them less vulnerable to heat and evaporation.
© FAO / Niklas Mattson
The number of fish is decreasing and there is no more vegetation on the banks of the river and the shores of the lake.
According to Vasco Schmidt, FAO fisheries and aquaculture official in southern Africa, it takes time to educate and encourage local fishermen and chiefs, but the results are promising.
Awareness is growing and, as fishermen are mobilized, they inspire other communities living near the lake to act to protect the lake and ensure a sustainable future for it, in order to better protect their living conditions and livelihoods.