Aquaculture for Local Community Development ProgrammeGCP/RAF/277/BEL

ALCOM Field Document No.9

Tilapia Culture by Farmers in Luapula
Province, Zambia


U.N. Wijkstrom, Economist
Karl Otto Wahlstrom, Aquaculturist

Funding Agencies:


Executing Agency:

Harare, Zimbabwe, November 1992

This report was prepared during the course of the project identified on the title page. The conclusions and recommendations given in the report are those considered appropriate at the time of its preparation. They may be modified in the light of the further knowledge gained at subsequent stages of the project.

The designations employed and the presentation of the material in this document do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the United Nations or the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concerning the legal or constitutional status of any country, territory or sea area, or concerning the delimination of frontiers.


This paper documents the aims, the execution and the findings of a survey of fish farmers in Luapula Province, Zambia, carried out during June-August 1988.

The survey was organized by ALCOM in co-operation with the Department of Fisheries, Zambia. Some 100 interviews were conducted for the survey in four of the five districts of Luapula province (Kawambwa, Mansa, Mwense and Samfya) -- with practising fish farmers, ex-fish farmers and potential fish farmers.

The survey team for Kawambwa district (20–29 June, 1988) included Ms. Lilian Chinkumbi, social science graduate from the University of Zambia, Mr. K. O. Wahlstrom, Aquaculturist (APO), ALCOM, and Mr. Cyprian Tembo, Fish Culturist from the Department of Fisheries, Zambia.

The survey teams for Mansa, Mwense and Samfya districts (25 July – 11 August, 1988) consisted of Mr. K. O. Wahlstrom of ALCOM, and Ms. Nelly Mazingaliwa, social science graduate from the University of Zambia. Assistance was provided by the following personnel from the Department of Fisheries -- Mr. C. Tembo, Fish Culturist, Mansa; Mr. Mubumba, Fish Culturist, Mansa; Mr. Mulenga, Laboratory Assistant, Samfya; and Mr. Robinson, Fish Scout, Samfya.

Data from the interviews were analyzed by Mr. Ulf Wijkstrom, Economist (Consultant), ALCOM, who also analyzed data from earlier ALCOM surveys in Northern Province and North Western Province, Zambia.

The survey yielded information on the present conditions and practices of fish farmers in Luapula Province, and the problems they face. The paper contains recommendations for future action for the Department of Fisheries, Zambia, and for ALCOM.

ALCOM is a regional fisheries/aquaculture programme of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). Based in Harare, Zimbabwe, it covers all the member countries of SADCC (Southern African Development Coordination Conference): Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

ALCOM activities include introduction and extension of fish farming; integration of aquaculture into existing farm systems; surveys of fish farmers; better utilization of the fisheries potential of small water bodies; improving the role of women in fisheries and aquaculture; assistance in planning and project formulation; and information dissemination.

The aim of ALCOM is to assist member countries improve the living standards of rural populations through the practice of aquaculture. Toward this end, pilot activities are conducted in member countries to demonstrate new techniques, technologies or methodologies. Successes achieved, ideas derived, lessons learnt, are applied on a wider scale by member governments.

ALCOM is funded by Sweden and Belgium. Its preparatory phase began in 1986, and its first implementation phase in October 1990.


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1.1.   Purpose of survey
1.2.   The Luapula Province

1.2.1.   Location, population and agriculture
1.2.2.   Fisheries
1.2.3.   Fish farming
1.2.4.   Fish farming in the districts


2.1.   The survey plan


3.1.   Production of farmed tilapia

3.1.1.   Quantities produced
3.1.2.   Productivity
3.1.3.   Production methods
3.1.4.   Harvesting and use of tilapia

3.2.   Outlook

3.2.1.   Increased physical productivity in the ponds
3.2.2.   The actual use of existing ponds
3.2.3.   New ponds
3.2.4.   Summary of outlook


4.1.   The respondents compared to the population of Luapula Province
4.2.   Chibote versus Non-Chibote farmers


5.1.   The subsistence fish farmer: The links between success and social and economic characteristics
5.2.   The subsistence farmer: importance of motives and social norms



7.1.   Production
7.2.   Fish farming as practised
7.3.   More tilapia from existing fish ponds
7.4.   Construction of new ponds
7.5.   Productivity as a function of pond size
7.6.   The optimum size for an individual pond
7.7.   Productivity as a function of harvesting method
7.8.   Single-pond farms versus farms with several ponds


8.1.   Relevant actions

8.1.1.   More tilapia from each pond
8.1.2.   Maintenance of ponds in operation
8.1.3.   Construction of new ponds

8.2.   Actions relevant in all of Zambia

8.2.1.   Adaptation of technology
8.2.2.   Activities and organization of extension services

8.3.   Activities relevant to ALCOM


1.1.   Number of fish farmers in Luapula Province

2.2.   Interviews with farmers - as planned and as executed

3.1.   Harvesting practices

3.2.   How farmers obtain fish

4.1.   Number of farmers by subcategory in (i) the Chibote area (ii) other parts of the Province (iii) the whole Province

4.2.   Selected characteristics for farmers in (i) the Chibote area (ii) other parts of the Province (iii) the combined sample (whole Province)

4.3.   Selected characteristics of fish ponds in (i) the Chibote area (ii) others parts of the Province (iii) the whole Province

5.1.   Selected characteristics of farmers who (i) are building more ponds (ii) intend to build soon (iii) will build sometime and (iv) will not build any more ponds

5.2.   Farm size (m2) for farmers who (i) are building more ponds (ii) intend to build soon (iii) will build some time (iv) will not build any more ponds

5.3.   Number of farms who (i) are building more ponds (ii) intend to build soon (iii) will build some time (iv) will not build any more ponds

5.4.   Selected characteristics for farmers who (i) have abandoned their ponds (ii) continue using their ponds (iii) would like to construct ponds

5.5.   Clients for culture used fish

6.1.   Practising fish farmers: Expected sources of inputs at the start of fish culture

6.2.   Practising fish farmers: Other possible uses (other than aquaculture) for their inputs

6.3.   Practising fish farmers: Expected share of own inputs for fish farming (%)

6.4.   Practising fish farmers: Expected share of purchased inputs for fish farming

6.5.   Practising fish farmers: How they acquired their inputs

6.6.   Practising fish farmers: Other reported uses for their input

6.7.   Practising fish farmers: Reported share of their inputs used up in fish farming

6.8.   Practising fish farmers: Reported share of various purchased inputs in fish farming

6.9.   Potential fish farmers: Expected sources of inputs

6.10.   Potential fish farmers: Reported alternative uses of inputs

6.11.   Practising fish farmers: Reported share of various inputs in fish farming

6.12.   Potential fish farmers: Expected share of various purchased inputs in fish farming


3.1.   Pond use and water sources

3.2.   Harvesting practices

3.3.   Pond use

4.1   Characteristics of population groups: Survey respondents vs. Luapula population

5.1.   Subsistence farmers: stated motives for fish culture

6.1.   Alternative use of inputs: agricultural production for sale

6.2.   Importance of purchased inputs

6.3.   Share of farmer's own inputs for fish farm: Water

6.4.   Share of farmer's own inputs for fish farm: Feed

6.5.   Source of inputs: Fingerlings

6.6.   Source of inputs: Labour

6.7.   Share of farmer's own inputs into fish farm: labour

6.8.   Inputs with alternative uses versus share of input and for fish culture


In 1988, ALCOM carried out a fish farmer survey in Luapula Province of Zambia in cooperation with the Department of Fisheries. Field work was done during June-August 1988.

The purposes of the survey were:

Agriculture in Luapula Province is carried out at a subsistence level. Farmers spread their risks and assure their own sustenance by culturing several crops and by engaging in off-farm activities. A relatively small part of their total incomes is in the form of cash. About half of the adult male population in the province engage in capture fisheries or ancillary activities. In 1985 the production was estimated at about 23 000 tons.

The conditions for fish farming are good. Land and water are available, and the population eat fish. About 280 farmers in the province engaged in fish farming in 1988.

The survey was intended to cover about 25% of the practising farmers plus intending farmers. This meant a goal of 100 interviews. The survey was preceded by a Department of Fisheries census to identify existing (and past) farmers with fish ponds. The interviews were carried out during two visits in the course of June and August 1988. The survey team consisted of an aquaculturist and a social science graduate. Altogether 94 interviews were carried out of which 51 were with practising fish farmers, 20 with former fish farmers and 23 with potential fish farmers. The survey questionnaires were designed by ALCOM and slightly modified after their use in the North-Western Province.

Current situation and outlook

The yearly production of tilapia in the province from earthen ponds is in the region of 9 tons. This is equivalent to about 5 kg/person/year in active producer households. Information on productivity is scanty, of doubtful reliability and somewhat contradictory. However, available data indicate a low productivity. It also supports the hypothesis that productivity is higher in small ponds than in the large.

The average farmer has three ponds with a total surface area of about 1 000 m2. He cultures tilapia and claims that he feeds the fish (90% of those interviewed) and applies fertilizers (67%).

The tilapia is consumed fresh. About half the farmers report that they harvest intermittently (by taking out a few fish once or twice a month) but only 20% report that they rely exclusively on this practice.

Farmers are hampered by lack of fingerlings and by insufficient knowledge on the use of local plants and manure as fertilizers. Also, some farmers do not have sufficient organic fertilizers to maintain good productivity in their ponds. It is unlikely therefore that productivity will improve without an effort by the Department of Fisheries.

The pond area may expand at a rate of about 10% per year. This rate, under stable productivity, would also be the rate at which production would expand.

The subsistence fish farmer

The subsistence fish farmer and head of household is generally better educated than the average head of household in the province. He is active in community affairs, and, on the whole, better off than the average farmer and head of household. Women are under-represented.

In the Chibote area a local missionary recently encouraged farmers to raise fish. About 90 responded by digging ponds. They are younger than other subsistence fish farmers. Several do not yet have a household, or head very small households. Like their colleagues elsewhere in the province, they are active in community affairs.

The successful subsistence fish farmer

The survey did not collect information on the economic results of the fish farm. Success is thus measured by the stated and observed desire to continue, expand, or abandon the activity.

The survey did not reveal any characteristics of the farmers which will make it possible to identify the successful (or unsuccessful) farmers before they have actually started farming. There are no clear differences amongst the three groups of farmers (constructing ponds; will construct ponds soon; will construct ponds sometime) who are, or will expand their activity. Those who will not build more ponds are generally older, have smaller households than the other two categories, and have more sources of cash income.

Thus, the survey does not support the proposition that much public money should be spend distinguishing, at the time extension service efforts start, the farmer who will successfully raise fish from the one who will not. The crucial issue is the site.

The yields (productivity) from growing tilapia seem to be lower than those expected by farmers. In part this may be due to the farmer's ignorance of possible feed and fertilizer use. In part it may be a matter of unrealistic expectations, of insufficient supplies of fingerlings, and a relative scarcity of feeds and fertilizers.

The prospects for growth of production -- under present conditions -- are difficult to predict, especially the future use of the rather large pool of unused and abandoned ponds. The survey yields some information on the possible rates of increase in pond production (8% of practising farmers and 4% by potential farmers - addition to existing pond surface area) and about the rate at which ponds are abandoned. There is no information about the future use of unused and abandoned ponds. Also, the productivity increase of ponds in use will to a large extent depend on the effort of the Department of Fisheries. All in all, it would seem that production ought to expand by 5 to 10% per year, possibly more, if the combination of climatic conditions and Department of Fisheries efforts are right.


It is recommended that the Department of Fisheries

It is recommended that ALCOM focuses its support to investigations: (i) on intermittent harvesting (ii) on the rationality of feed and fertilizer use on farms (iii) on improved supply of fingerlings (iv) on optimum size of fish ponds and (v) on follow-up of fish farming developments in Chibote.