Malawi’s freshwater ecosystems are under considerable stress due to pressure from a growing population, a regulatory framework that largely allows for “open access” resulting in over – fishing of species. Of particular concern is the degradation of environment in both land and freshwater habitats. CHARLES MKOKA recently travelled to Nkhota Kota and spoke to VICTORIA FISKANI HARA, Field Technician under REFRESH project to provide capture fisheries and aquatic science insights. Here are the excerpts:
Can you tell our readers more about yourself
I am Victoria Fiskani Hara, last born in a family of eight children. I am currently working with Pact Malawi at the District Fisheries Office in Nkhotakota as a Field Technician under a five-year Restoring Fisheries for Sustainable Livelihoods in Lake Malawi (REFRESH) project, funded by USAID.
What is your educational background ?
I attended my junior classes at Lilongwe Demonstration School up to standard four and then moved to Lozi Primary School in Nkhotakota where I completed my primary education in 2007. I then proceeded to Lilongwe Girls Secondary School, upon completion of my Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE). I was selected to pursue an under graduate course in Science at Mzuzu University. I am now a holder of Bachelor of Science degree in fisheries and aquatic science obtained 2018. I am currently pursuing a Masters degree in tropical aquaculture at Can Tho University which is in Vietnam.
What areas is your work focusing under REFRESH to ensure fisheries aquatic ecosystem long term sustainability?
In the sector of fisheries conservation REFRESH employs five strategic approaches which are strengthening fisheries governance and regulatory framework, improving science, information and technical capacities in stock assessment and data management, strengthening decentralised fisheries co – management, commercialize conservation enterprises and building constituencies for effective, accountability and transparency.
Another focus area especially when it comes to working with fish dependent communities is ecosystem – based fisheries management in order to restore the natural or wild fisheries productivity in lakeshore districts of Karonga, Likoma, Rumphi, Nkhatabay, Nkhotakota, Salima, Dedza and Mangochi. Natural or wild fisheries are those species that are considered wild when compared to fish fed by people in ponds, cages and dams.
Were you inspired by anyone to take up this career. Yes or No and why?
I didn't know about fisheries and aquatic science until when I was selected to pursue the course. I asked so many people about this course if I should go for it or change the program. To my surprise, there were so many positive comments about the program than negatives. I therefore went on to hold the bull by the horn. Inspiration came from my lecturers during orientation who said that there is no useless degree at the University, every program is important. This totally fired me up and the decision of proceeding with the program remain rock solid. I went through the entire course module, until I finally graduated in 2018.
How rewarding is the career and what opportunities does fisheries aquatic science offer ?
The fisheries sector plays a significant role in the economics, politics, and social dynamics of the nation, providing employment to about 60,000 fishers and more than 450,000 fish processors, distributors, and others involved in the value chain. As you can see, it is a sector that is critical to national development including providing nutrition to 18 million plus Malawians. That is rewarding already to my country Malawi, as a patriotic citizen. Secondly, as part of personal career advancement you can do post – graduate studies in a completely different field related to environmental science like community development, agricultural extension, water quality and many more. You can also venture into agri – business through skills and knowledge acquired at tertiary level. You can choose to start from a lower level with one system and then move to higher level with more systems. Depending on supply and demand dynamics you can employ many people as part of job creation.
What challenges is the fisheries aquatic sector facing as a result of growing human population growth, catchment degradation and climate change?
High human population growth and lack of opportunities for rural communities living close to aquatic ecosystems especially Lakes has resulted in many people venturing the fishery sector. This has put enormous pressure on fisheries resources through use of illegal gear such as undermeshed and drag nets which kill both matured, young and juvenile fish leading to species extinction and decline. There is also poor conservation of catchment areas which has contributed immensely to pollution of lakes through the use of fertilizers and other chemicals hence disrupting aquatic habitats. Environmental degradation in catchment areas has also led to siltation in lakes and rivers, in turn disturbing breeding grounds. Over and above all, climate change has not spared the sector. It is either we have drought or dry spell and this leads to fluctuation of Lake levels hence fish productivity is directly affected.
Where can one train as a qualified fisheries aquatic scientist and what are the requirements?
To the aspiring Malawian youth, there are a number of tertiary institutions that offer this course. Two of these colleges are Mzuzu University and the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The University of Malawi, Chancellor College in the faculty of science also trains students in fish and fresh water biology under a general biology under – graduate programme. Those aspiring to take up this course need to score credits at MSCE as a requirement. A potential student needs six of those credits, four being in science subjects.
What words of encouragement can you give to fellow youths willing to take up the career?
Always aim high and be mindful that to succeed in any career you need to work hard. So, I urge my fellow youths to make up their mind, they will achieve it in life no matter what challenges they encounter. Take away fear, if all you want is this profession then go for it.
What are your final words ?
My last word to those who are willing to make it in life, is focus on your dream. Be the change, you want to see in the world.