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HIV-Affected Families in Malawi Benefit from Raising Fish

Many people with HIV/AIDS in Malawi are getting more protein these days and as a result are healthier. They’re getting it from fish, through a project funded by the European Union. An international humanitarian aid organization, WorldFish Center, runs the effort, known as Aquaculture for HIV/AIDS Households. It encourages fish farming among families affected -- and infected -- by the pandemic. The center encourages fish farming among the vulnerable populations in developing countries. Voice of America English to Africa Service’s Lameck Masina reports that scientists at the WorldFish Centre say families taking part in the project have shown a 150 percentincrease in the consumption of fresh fish.

That means a boost in their intake of protein, calcium, vitamin A and micronutrients necessary for maintaining good health in AIDS patients. Health experts say people with HIV/AIDS need up to 50 percentmore protein and 15 percentmore calories than healthy people.

According to the World Food Program, fish provide over 70 percent of national dietary animal protein intake in Malawi and 40 percent of the protein supply. But an increase in population and a decline in catch reduced the annual per capita fish consumption by more than two-thirds from the 1970s until 2005.

Previous efforts to increase fish consumption through aquaculture have failed, in part because they required large financial investments from farmers, who did not have the money.

The WorldFish Centre says the new fish farming approach is succeeding because it meshes cheaply and efficiently with existing farm operations.

The investment is minimal. All farmers have to do is dig small, rain-fed ponds of about 20 meters by 10 meters on their land. Then they cultivate species such as tilapia.

Raising fish is not labor intensive. Farm and chicken waste serves as food for fish. Women, children and the elderly can easily manage the fish in the ponds. So far, about 30 percentof the program’s farmers are women. Experts working with WorldFish and World Vision teach them how to raise, process and market their fish, generating much-needed income for their families.

As in many areas of Africa where the AIDS pandemic has raged unchecked, Malawian women are the primary providers and caregivers for their families.

The ponds are capable of producing 1,500 kilograms of fish per hectare each year, enough for families to sell fish to pay for medical care and household needs.

Joseph Nagoli is the senior research analyst for WorldFish Center in the East and Southern African region. He mentions another benefit of the ponds, “You are also using this water from the pond to grow vegetables, winter maize even seeds that you can sell and get more money. So we want these farmers to be more resilient to outside shocks such as droughts, lack of income and other basic things.”

In addition, some farmers have started growing valuable crops near the ponds -- plants like bananas and guava, which take advantage of the water that seeps into the surrounding soil. The sediment dredged from the bottom of the ponds can also be used to fertilize [surrounding] crops.

Research by the WorldFish group has shown that farms with both fish farming with traditional crops are nearly 20 percentmore productive during times of drought than farms without ponds.

Nagoli says the success of the project in Malawi has prompted the organization to consider expanding the initiative to other countries, like Mozambique and Zambia.

The WorldFish Centre has recently partnered with an internet-based fundraising group, It allows individual donors to contribute to the Malawi project on-line. For example, $200 can help build an entire fish pond, and $10 can buy enough fish to stock it.