Often most people put their best foot forward to ensure they succeed in their endeavours, but often others also work equally hard to pull them down. Picture this, you toil hard to commence a fish farming project; ensure proper construction of fish ponds which is an uphill task, acquire fingerlings, take care of them and a few weeks before they are harvested, you wake up one early morning to find empty ponds staring at you.
This is the story of Elizabeth Mathias from Lulembela village in Tanzania who espouses strength and resilience despite her setback to narrate to us how she had to start from square one in her fish farming venture.
Elizabeth, a mother of 7 children with the eldest being 14 and the youngest 9 had the misfortune of dealing with someone who pretended to care about her vision while waiting to strike at the opportune moment. This was her second marriage to a man that had only stayed with her for a year, “I woke up and found that my husband had left when the fish were a few weeks before they were fully mature. He harvested the fish, destroyed the ponds and disappeared without a trace. When I found the empty ponds I was flabbergasted and I lost hope for some time. I sold the remaining fingerlings and gave some away to others who had ponds,” she narrates.
Ms Elizabeth started her fish farming venture in 2014 with the help of Bishop Sawuel Kitula, the chairman of OAIC Tanzania Chapter. The Bishop enabled her to get some land – 8 acres – for renting and helped her start the fish farming venture. He then donated 54 fingerlings and enabled her to start her fish ponds which currently stand at 6.
“Bishop Kitula taught me how to start, keep and take care of the fish and the fish ponds which I found quite enriching. I was hopeless as I didn’t quite have something stable to engage in. The Bishop identified a piece of land which I liked and we started the process. To date I have used approximately 70,000 Tshs for the entire process and I know the benefits that await me. My children sometime help me in the ponds after school,” narrates Elizabeth.
With 7 children to fend for, she had to look for other means of survival and thus started practicing subsistence farming where she grows maize, beans and some vegetables. She reconstructed her ponds and with the knowledge acquired from Bishop Kitula, she is about to harvest her fish. She is glad that she was able to acquire proper skills on effective ways of managing fish ponds and didn’t give up hope when her first harvest was destroyed. She is happy too that other women are increasingly becoming interested in fish farming as they are keen on learning and emulating.
Elizabeth is also part of a women’s group that meets regularly and do other menial jobs together as well as engage in merry-go-round groups where they lend each other money at 20% interest rates. Edina Isabu her counterpart who has fish ponds with her husband notes that fish farming is lucrative as there’s a ready market for fish. However, pest and birds are the biggest threat to the farming as they destroy and eat the fingerlings.
Asumani Ndegeya one of the fish farmers in Lulembela has 2 fish ponds which cost him 120,000 to construct is glad that he started fish farming too. “Ponds are usually constructed where water is available and one has to wait for at least 3 months before putting in any fingerlings in order to ascertain if the area can sustain a pond. I was skeptical at first about fish farming but Bishop Kitula motivated me and he kept coming back to the village to advice us on the benefits of this type of farming. I have seen others doing well and I am hopeful that my harvest will be bountiful too,” he notes.
Bishop Kitula notes that when they started the fish ponds project, many people were skeptical about it and often laughed if off, “they didn’t envision it thriving as they were not development oriented people. I encouraged the farmers and gave them ideas on how to stay focused. We taught them skills regardless of their faith, religion or tribe and many can attest that fish farming pays.”
Business management skills are however, the missing link between the farmers and their trade. Training will ensure that they understand the markets; keep records and be able to know their profit margins after harvest.