The rising cost of food in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa has left close to 900 million people suffer from severe hunger and malnutrition. This has led UN agencies such as the World Food Program and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to call on developing countries to invest in fish farming.  From Kazungula District on the Zambia-Botswana Border, VOA English to Africa Service Reporter Sanday Chongo Kabange interviewed a retired police officer who is tackling the rising cost of food through aquaculture.

After retiring from the Zambia Police Service in 1997, Kester Imata Mumbela thought of investing his retirement funds in cattle rearing and farming. But due to livestock disease that gripped the region several years ago, Mumbela lost all his 159 cattle he had bought to begin his retirement dream.

Left with no hope and source of income amid rising food prices, Mumbela tried another kind of business that is lucrative and requires less input -- fish farming.

The desperate but determined ex-serviceman took advantage of two huge ditches left behind by road contractors.

Mumbela says, "I requested help from [local road contractor] Konco.  When they extracted the river sand  (they) left a pit [which] I turn the pit into a fish pond. I requested [ the Environmental Council of Zambia] to make a fallow (stream) from the Ngwezi River to bring the Zambezi fish into the pond."

The Department of Fisheries helped him purchase fingerlings, which come from red breasted breams (Tilapia Rendalli), green head breams (Orechromis Machrochir) and the three spotted breams (Orechromis Andersonii).

Today, his fish farm is supported by the government-backed Agriculture Support Program that operates through the Department of Fisheries.  It's backed by the World Bank's International Development Association, Swedish International Development Agency ? SIDA, and United Kingdom's Department for International Development ? DFID. 

The program has been training rural residents on how to earn income with fish ponds.  So far, nearly 5,000 households have been reached.  They're taught how to choose suitable fish varieties, and how to care for the fingerlings.

Peter Bunonge is a Fisheries Assistant for the Livingstone-Kazungula Region. He has been promoting fish farming and training local communities on how to produce good fish and access markets.  He says the Ministry of Agriculture under the Fisheries Department is providing technical knowledge to any farmers who plan to venture into fish farming.

"We [teach them] how to construct fish ponds," he says, "what types of fish to be stocked in the fish ponds and where to get recommended types of fish. These (fish species) basically have been recommended for fish farming reason being that they grow fast and they are disease resistant."

During an international food meeting in Austria, World Food Program Deputy Director Sheila Sisulu stressed the urgent need for people in Africa to get involved in any form of food production to counter soaring food prices.

Sisulu said because of continuing emergencies due to conflicts, droughts and other extreme climatic conditions, relief agencies (like the WFP) are struggling to meet people's needs.

"I think everybody is agreed," she said, "that this (food) crisis is a wake up call, globally but in particular for Africa to invest in agriculture."

The Department of Fisheries survey indicates female participation in fish farming is about 29 per cent of the rural population. It says over 10,000 people are earmarked to benefit from the fish farming project.  A joint report by FAO and the WFP underscores the key role fish can play in providing cheap food, nutrition and health security for hundreds of millions of people in the developing world.