It is widely accepted the world over that aquaculture is the fastest expanding food producing sector as the demand for fish other aquatic products continues to rise (FAO, 2012; Troell et al, 2014). Pursuant to studies in aquaculture, the UZ Aquaculture Class of 2019 had an opportunity to visit Chingwe Farm in Shamva, Zimbabwe owned by Mr N Chingwe who is a beneficiary of the Land Reform Programme. The visit was done in order to afford students a chance to complement theoretical knowledge gained with a practical appreciation of concepts. The objective of this report is to give a highlight of how aquaculture is being conducted within an integrated farming system.
Mr Chingwe’s farm is located within Shamva District and it covers about 15 hectares. The farm encompasses a wide range of agricultural systems that include aquaculture, horticulture, poultry, livestock husbandry and apiculture. There is also a fruit tree orchard that is run at the farm. The idea of an integrated farming system is to increase overall production or income by reducing costs for purchasing expensive and potentially polluting fertilisers or pesticides (Zajdband, 2011). Initially, the farm ran an intensive aquaculture system but has since adopted the extensive system due to the high feed price and the harsh economic environment. This has increased the time taken to reach harvesting from 4-5 months to about a year. Ponds were being fertilised by animal waste in order to boost the growth of algae which fish can feed. Mr Chingwe pleaded with the Department of Biological Sciences to carry out experiments in order to develop a cheaper and nutritious type of feed that small scale farmers can afford.
A total of 12 large earth ponds were constructed for fish farming but only 3 had fish because of drying out. Earth ponds without a plastic lining are advantageous in that they are inexpensive to construct and they also help to regulate water quality because plant growth is encouraged (Omofunmi, 2016). They mainly relied on rain and water was supplemented by a nearby dam although its water levels were receding. It was learnt that plans were under way to have a borehole to mitigate the water challenges that were being faced. There was virtually no draining system within the ponds and this tended to increase the ammonia levels thereby increasing chances of fish mortalities (Omofunmi, 2016). Furthermore, there were no water quality tests this was attributed also to the poor growth of fish. It is critical to carry out regular water quality tests in order to investigate the levels of parameters that are crucial to the survivability of fish such as pH, salinity and dissolved oxygen (Ayyappan, 2011). Most small scale farmers are challenged by lack of testing equipment in this regard.
Species that were being bred included Oreochromis niloticus, Oreochromis mossambicus, Oreochromis machrochir, Tilapia rendalii and Clarias gariepinus. The harvesting size was satisfactory with Tilapias reaching an average weight of 1,5 kgs and the largest Clarias gariepinus caught was 5,4 kgs. However, growth of species appeared to be confronted by several factors. Fish were mixed in the ponds as a result of flooding during Cyclone Idai in 2019. As a result of the hybridisation, the aspect of selling fingerlings was stopped because the fingerlings produced were no longer of good for market because of slow growth rates. Furthermore, no sexing was taking place and this had an impact on the marketability of fish due to disparities in growth rates between males and females (Phelps & Popma, 2000).
The class learnt that predation and poaching also contributed to the decrease in fish stocks. Common predators were fish eagles, otters and other birds whilst suspected poachers were from surrounding homesteads. Scare tactics were mainly being used to control predation because fish eagles fall under protected bird species. Mr Chingwe is a licenced firearm holder and this has managed to reduce incidences of poaching. In addition to the security perimeter fence, patrols were regularly conducted and flood lights were also overlooking the fish ponds for overnight protection. There were long term plans to install a closed circuit television (CCTV) system to enhance the security status at the farm.
The aquaculture project at Chingwe Farm was a significant component of an integrated farming system. As alluded to earlier, animal waste was used to fertilise the ponds thereby supplementing feed and this in turn reduced production costs (Zajdband, 2011). There was a sound integration of orchards and apiculture where pollen bees played a key role in the pollination of fruit trees within the farm. The income realised from the apiaries amounted to more than 40 kgs of honey per hive annually. The current retail price of pure honey in Zimbabwe is at $ZWL45 thus this is a viable product that increases revolving funds at the farm. However, hives were severely affected by frost as well as a veld fire that devastated the farm recently. Furthermore, it is critical to take additional precautions when dealing with pesticides in the orchards because this can also affect the bees (Calatayud-Vernich et al, 2016). Horticulture was also being conducted where cabbages, pepper, peas and beans were grown under irrigation for marketing purposes. Funds realised added to the net income of the farm. It was appreciated that from income generated in the various agriculture systems one can be able to sustain a decent livelihood as well as contribute meaningfully to the development of the country without going to a formal employment.
Mr Chingwe shared his vision of value addition in all aspects of the farm. Regarding aquaculture, he planned to have an abattoir and cold rooms for fish products. A training centre was to be built in order to empower community members in fish farming. He also had plans to venture into recreational fishing and creating a world class wedding venue. However, despite the strides made operations at the farm were being compounded by power outages and solar energy was proffered as a cheaper alternative source of electricity.
In conclusion, the visit to Chingwe Farm was enlightening with regards to the conduct of aquaculture at a small scale level whilst integrating other farming systems. Generic aquaculture issues such as stock management and water quality management were given key consideration. Challenges confronting the conduct of operations at Chingwe farm included the exorbitant prices of feed, power outages, receding water availability and lack of technical support. Integration system being practiced was significant in boosting income to sustain operations at the farm.
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