A USAID-funded project introduces Integrated Agriculture-Aquaculture (IAA) farming practices to help farmers get much more out of their land

Malawi is one of the world's least-developed countries. Its economy is heavily based in agriculture, with a largely rural population. Many of its more than 15 million people are in need of food assistance.

The food security situation in Malawi is precarious as the country is prone to natural disasters, from drought to heavy rainfalls, putting it in constant need of thousands of tons of food aid every year.

The country's single major natural resource, agricultural land, is under severe pressure from rapid population growth and ‘slash-and-burn’ cropping that has degraded much of the nation’s soil. Limited resources and low fertility of farms are serious problems.

Many Malawians are subsistence farmers, growing everything their family will need during the year on less than one-hectare of land. Many are food insecure, facing hunger and malnutrition on a daily basis. Many try to make their crops last until the next harvest.

"Fish in the pond is like money in the bank.” - Jessie Kaund, farmer

WorldFish is working with Malawi's Fisheries Department on a USAID-funded project to introduce Integrated Agriculture-Aquaculture (IAA) farming practices to help farmers get much more out of their land and increase food security.

In integrated farming systems, farmers set aside a small amount of their land for fish farming. Such farms are more sustainable, productive and profitable than traditional farms that rely on slash-and-burn cropping.

Integrated farming enables farmers produce around 1,500 kilograms of fish per hectare each year, providing high-quality protein for their families and giving them income they never had before.

The net income of those who integrate aquaculture into their farms exceeds that of non-adopters by 60 per cent. Their farms are also 18 per cent more productive during times of drought, increasing farm resilience and food security.

The techniques used are simple and low-cost. Fish are fed maize bran and household leftover while manure from goats, chickens and rabbits help fertilize the ponds.

This is a boon for resource-poor farmers, especially women, for whom “fish in the pond is like money in the bank”, says Jessie Kaunde, a farmer and widow in Mangwengwe village, southern Malawi.

In addition to using water from the ponds to irrigate maize fields and vegetables in their garden during the dry season, farmers grow cash crops like bananas around the banks of their ponds.

Pond sediments make great fertilizers and WorldFish research has shown that replacing inorganic fertilizers with pond sediments in maize fields is effective in boosting productivity. Farmers need to apply pond sediments only once a year to get results.

In times of drought, farmers can grow vegetables in the residual moisture at the bottom of the pond or use pond water for emergency irrigation of seedling nurseries.

In years with normal rainfall, integrated farming systems can produce fish and vegetables that are of higher nutrient quality and are more marketable.

WorldFish and partner institutions have trained more than 200 extension staff and researchers in integrated farming methods and more than 5,000 farmers have adopted the system in Malawi and Zambia. Work is continuing to extend integrated farming to other sites in these countries.

The integrated farming systems have the potential to increase food security throughout Africa. If integrated farming was implemented on only one percent of the almost 250 million hectares identified by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization as suitable, 3.75 million tons of fish per year could be produced. This is four times the catch from all capture fisheries in the region.