Friday, 11 July 2008

Visit to the Chia Lagoon

A couple of weeks ago I visited one of TLC’s major projects – the CHIA Lagoon Watershed Management Project. A delegation from the Norweigan government, the current funders of the project, were in town, so the visit was largely meant to show them some of the project sites, and to launch a new initiative. Basically, we were trying to show off what we've done so far . . . Other guests included government staff and members of the media.

The Chia project is a big one for TLC. It includes a whole whack of activities – forestry, soil and water management, fisheries, enterprise development (helping farmers earn income from little specialized business endevours such as honey production or fish farming), etc.

Some background:
The Chia Lagoon is a sizable lagoon of Lake Malawi, a couple hours north east of Lilongwe. The watershed encompasses both a forest and a game reserve, and supports the livelihoods of 55,000 people.

The natural resources of the Chia Lagoon watershed – soil, water, flora and fauna – have been under threat from poor land use practices over the past 20 years, which has resulted in severe problems of erosion and water runoff. The lagoon suffers from major sedimentation problems, which have resulted from these practices and have significant negative impacts on the area’s rich biodiversity and the livelihoods of local communities.

The major problems causing natural resources degradation in the watershed include:
  • opening new land for agriculture
  • cultivation on steep slopes and stream banks
  • poor farming practices
  • uncontrolled cutting of trees for wood
  • setting of bush fires

Impacts on the watershed’s natural resources include:
  • Soil degradation
  • Degradation of natural vegetation
  • Declining water quality and quantity in the Lagoon
  • Reduced abundance and diversity of fish resources in the Lagoon
The project itself has several different components, trying to mitigate some of the key problems facing the watershed and their impacts. These components include forestry (requiring the raising and planting of tree seedlings), crop diversification, fisheries, conservation agriculture, and enterprise development. I’m just going to touch on a few of them here, the activities I visited with the delegation last week.

Improved Land and Water Management Practices

Photo One: A field under “Conservation Agriculture.” Conservation agriculture (CA) aims “to achieve sustainable and profitable agriculture and subsequently aims at improved livelihoods of farmers through the application of the three CA principles: minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and crop rotations,” ( It offers opportunities to produce higher and more stable crop yields, and to reduce labor, time and production costs. This photo shows a field under conservation agriculture; the stalks from last year’s corn harvest have been left in the field, rather than being burned off which is what the usual practice would require. By doing this, the farmer will receive multiple benefits – top soil will be protected from being washed away; ridges in the field will be maintained, reducing labor time next season; biological activity will be encouraged, which improves soil quality; etc.

Photo Two: Dr. Trent Bunderson (4th from the left), the Regional Director of TLC, speaking to the Norweigan delegation

Photo Three: Another means of improving soil fertility is by intercropping (cultivating two or more crops together) your main crop (in this case, cassava) with legumes which fix nitrogen from the air and enrich the soil (in this case, Tephrosia candida is being used)

Photo Four: This tree has nothing to do with the project, I just liked it . . . the bunches of grasses you see leaned up against the trunk are used for thatching roofs.

Photo Five: A fisherman drying his catch of fish from the lake out in the sun. The project is working to improve the management of the fisheries in the lake and the lagoon to increase the sustainability of the fisheries.

Photo Six: The delegation and other guests paddling (the engine wasn’t working) out to the lagoon to check out fish cages where fish are raised. I feared disaster, but they managed to not tip! Fish cage culturing is used to subsidize fish populations in the lake and lagoon.

Photo Seven: Cute kids hanging out on dug out canoes on the shore

Enterprise Development

Photo Eight: An incomplete fish pond. Raising fish in fish ponds is becoming a popular income generation option for farmers in the area.

Photo Nine: Fish pond construction

Photo Ten: Woman with rice. TLC promotes the production of a certain kind of rice; the rice farmers in the project have a buyer who is happily buying all their rice at a good price.

Photo Eleven: rice!

Photo Twelve: more rice!

Photo Thirteen: Bringing in rice from the rice paddies

Photo Fourteen: Jars of honey for sale. Honey production is another practice we have going on in the project. We were told that the farmers had just recently collected honey, so the bees were annoyed and aggressive, so we were unable to check out the hives. Each jar of honey went for 300MK (approx $2.10).

The major event of the visit was the grand opening of a fish market. The idea for the market came from the project fish vendors through the Association who approached TLC for assistance. In the past, the fish vendors have been selling their fish by the roadside under no formal structure and with risks of road accidents. The market is expected to provide improved fish handling, processing and storage with reduced losses, improved hygiene and sanitation, and reduced risks of road accidents. There is also expected to be a diversification in terms of fish products offered (e.g., fish fillets, roadside restaurants). The fish market also has the potential to provide a stronger and more consistent price for fish sales with healthy competition between vendors that is based on product quality.
Photo Fifteen: The fish market

Photo Sixteen: Preparing dried fish, step one. Fish are split open and left to dry in the sun (under a netted screen) for 3 hours, after which time an oil/tomato mixture is applied to them prior to smoking.
Photo Seventeen: Preparing dried fish, step two. Laying out the fish over embers.

Photo Eighteen: Dried fish, ready for sale.

Photo Nineteen: Dried fish sellers

Photo Twenty: The fish market has the advantage of offering refrigeration, to allow for the sale of fresh fish.

Photo Twenty One: Fish market grand opening

Photo Twenty Two: Young girls selling little smoked fish to parked vehicles. They can be eaten as a snack (very tasty!) or cooked further.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

very good results and good pictures presenting all the activities of the Total Land Care Project
good continuation

in Malawi 1996-1999

gervpatrick at gmail dot com