The Chingale stretch on the western edge of Zomba and Machinga mountains has been the food basket for the eastern region typical of abundant produce of cereals, tubers, vegetables, livestock’s including farmed fish. Supply of agricultural produce from the area had been consistent courtesy of efficient utilization of water resources.
A worrying phenomenon is emerging in the area where unregulated anthropogenic activities are altering normal production systems and livelihoods of an estimated 80,000 human population that depend on farming and exploitation of natural resources. In separate interviews Senior Chief Mlumbe of Zomba and Traditional Authority Mkula of Machinga both corroborated that in recent years their areas have been affected by poor rainfall distribution, loss of soil fertility, low water table leading to widespread pockets of food shortages.
“We are not producing enough due to erratic rains and it is worrying that most of the natural vegetation is wantonly cut for charcoal and due to space limitations, some people have gone to the extent of opening gardens on the mountain cliffs” said Traditional Authority Mkula.
According to records from a forestry official in the area over 60 hectors of forests are being cleared away annually, a situation exacerbated from over dependence on fuel wood, poverty and increased population. From a distant, one is bound to see patches of gardens and houses in the mountain area, deforested parts of Zomba and Machinga mountain and widespread cultivation along river banks. This is contrary to environmental management policy that prohibits farming activities 100 meters within the river or mountain catchments in order to conserve trees, prevent soil erosion and maintain water table. Group Village Head Mtangaleya of Mtangaleya village in Traditional Authority Mlumbe in Zomba bemoaned the growing tendency of communities defying forestry and natural resources management by laws. Mtangaleya explains that chiefs do emphasize upon their subjects to abide by the laws meant to protect forestry and sustainable agriculture practices but this is proving problematic due to complicated land tenure laws, democratization and need for individual survival.
A lot of natural trees are being cut exposing the soils to increased run off consequently silting up rivers and lowering water table. “rivers that were perennial have now become seasonal and this is affecting irrigation crop farming, fish farming as well as access to water for domestic use” bemoans Traditional Authority Mkula fearing this is negatively impacting on the areas food and economic security. A recent visit to Chingale stretch on both sides of Zomba and Machinga districts exposed the dire consequence of poor management of the environment on fish farming. Most fish ponds are either dried up or half-filled forcing fish farmers cut short their production cycle and designate few water filled ponds for fingerling reserves.
Zomba District Fisheries Officer, Lapkin Chikoko blames it on uncoordinated implementation of integrated land, water and forestry management plans.
“Over 60 individual ponds, sadly including government owned fish ponds at Chinseu satellite center are not functioning due to lack of water” informed Chikoko.
“Our fish ponds are good as dead due to lack of water and this is setting a bad example in our quest to promote fish farming in the district” said Chikoko.
Chingale area has a huge penitential for fish farming and integrated household farming owing to a number of rivers that used to supply water for irrigation farming to over 200 hectors of land and over 300 fish ponds mainly producing Oreochromis shiranus (Chambo) and Coptodoni Rendalli (Makumba) fish species. Testifying of the situation, Agnes Kanyema of Chiunda village, T/A Mlumbe in Zomba complained of the drying up of her six fish ponds and fears she might struggle to bounce back next season if she is not supported with fingerlings.
*“Our fish ponds are good as dead due to lack of water and this is setting a bad example in our quest to promote fish farming in the district” said Chikoko.**
Amidu Alesi, chairlady of Chidothi women fish farming groups in T/A Mkula area in Machinga says their group had to sell their fish before maturity to avoid losses due to water stress.
Alesi therefore heaps the blame on uncontrolled upland and river stream cultivation which is contributing to low water table and loss of river flow.
“We need a holistic approach to natural resource management in this area because it’s not practical for communities to be encouraged planting trees like blue gum and grow high water demanding crops without utilizing on natural moisture” suggests Chikoko seemingly furious at Village Natural Resource Management committees being toothless to contain deforestation and river bank cultivation at their nose. Adding weight to the concerns, Machinga district fisheries officer, Elliot Lungu indicates that fish farming clubs in the area are encouraged to practice agro-forestry, sequence their fish production cycles and adopt deep pond technologies to countering water losses whilst hinting the need for sector coordination in implementing natural resources management interventions.
This article first appeared in the Daily Nation, Malawi. Photos by Andrew Saukani