Henry Mpingu has neither a boat nor a net, but he is a famous fisher. Mr. Mpingu wakes early every morning and fishes until sunset in the Kandiyani dam, 20 kilometres west of Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. Mr. Mpingu says, “The population of fish in the dam has dwindled, but every evening I always manage to bring home some fish and sell the surplus.”
Orphaned at the age of 11, Mr. Mpingu was forced to drop out of school when his elder brothers were unable to pay his fees. He says, “My brother used to take me to Kandiyani dam … For decades, my life has been surviving on fishing.” The 32-year-old adds, “I always buy food from other farmers and I sell them fish.”
Dikisoni Kaunda comes from Phwetekele, a village near the shores of Kandiyani dam. He is also concerned about the dwindling number of fish in the dam. He worries about the destructive practices employed by some fishers. Mr. Kaunda says: “There are some … who fish throughout the year and others that use nets with small holes. Others use mosquito nets which catch even the fingerlings … sometimes you come to this dam and go back home without fish.”
Some fishers are trying their best to increase fish stocks in the dam. They feed the fish, and they fish less frequently to allow the population to recover. Mr. Kaunda says, “There is no proper feeding of fish in this dam. Some of us …take maize husks whenever our wives mill maize, and we bring it here and throw it in the dam.”
The government and local people collaborated to build Kandiyani dam in order to conserve water and provide a livelihood for surrounding communities. But according to Mr. Mpingu, the dam has been neglected. There is uncontrolled fishing and the dam is choked with weeds.
In 2011, the former Member of Parliament for the local constituency, Jean Sendeza, asked the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development to consider cleaning up the dam. She suggested that it was being underutilized and could be used for irrigation. But no action has yet been taken.
Mr. Mpingu is afraid that the dwindling fish catch will affect his livelihood. He says, “In the past, we used to catch big tilapia and mlamba [a species of catfish]. Today I [had to] spend the whole day fishing because … to catch more fish I need more time.”
Mr. Mpingu makes about $6 U.S. from his daily catch. He says, “I have high demand because in this area people like eating fish. People always give me orders, and soon after fishing I pass by their homes to sell them.”
Mr. Mpingu plans to buy a wooden boat to replace the one he built himself from reeds and straw. Fishing is the only means he has to support his family, and the investment is necessary even though catches are decreasing.
Mr. Mpingu says: “I buy maize and groceries for my family using money from fishing. One of my three children is going to school using the same money. I wish farmers around the dam and government [would] come together and start controlling our fishing methods to avoid [overfishing] the dam.”
Photo credit: Mark Ndipita