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Boosting nutrition and livelihoods in Zambia through the chisense fishery

Enhancing the Resilience of the Chisense Fishery for Food and Nutrition Security in Zambia
Project leader
Simon Heck
1 Sep 2011
30 Aug 2012
Dried ChisenseFor the people of Zambia, especially the poor, fish is the most important and sometimes only source of animal protein and other essential nutrients. However, the per capita supply of fish today is only half of what it was 30 years ago, due to stagnating production, growing populations and increasingly competitive trade. Projections for future supplies are that fish will become increasingly expensive also in Zambia. Currently Zambian households in most parts of the country spend more money on fish than on any other food item, including staple foods and other animal products. If this trend continues, there are concerns that fish may slip out of the reach of the poor – with far-reaching implications for national nutrition security and public health. 
Over the past 20 years, chisense has become a popular food fish in Zambia and neighboring countries whereas previously it had been largely under-utilized in favor of larger species. Today, chisense meets the expanding demand for animal-based food among low-income consumers in the mining towns and urban centers of Zambia and the DR Congo and also in remote rural communities. Production of chisense has steadily increased as off-take from the lakes and rivers has grown, while natural reproduction of the small pelagic chisense species has not yet been affected by overexploitation.  Looking into the future, however, concerns are growing that chisense, like other fish, may become less available to the poor and that its production may be jeopardized by poor management of the natural resource base.  
The Government of Zambia is taking a two-pronged approach to addressing these challenges and is using the research findings from the project to guide its efforts. Firstly, the National Food and Nutrition Commission, as part of the new National Food and Nutrition Strategy, is looking for ways to enhance the utilization of chisense in nutrition support programs aimed at food insecure populations. Secondly the Department of Fisheries in the Ministry of Agriculture is developing management and monitoring measures to support sustainable production of chisense in the country’s natural water bodies.

Taking better care of the fishery

The project is working with fishing communities and women fish processors around Lake Mweru in the Luapula Province of Northern Zambia to secure sustainable supplies of chisense into the future. This region is the main area for chisense fishing as well as one of the poorest parts of the country.
Together with the Department of Fisheries, WorldFish is systematically mapping how the chisense industry is operated and how each of the activities involved contributes to its competitiveness and economic importance. For example, the researchers are documenting the number of chisense fishers, volume of fish caught and locations for fishing and processing.
This research will help establish management measures and monitoring tools that will enable fishing communities and the country as a whole to develop more sustainable supply chains of chisense for future generations of consumers.

Harnessing a rich natural food source to fight malnutrition

In Zambia, over 50 per cent of children under the age of five suffer stunted growth as a result of chronic malnutrition and lack of key nutrients in their diets. Previous research on the nutritional composition of chisense and similar fish species has shown that these fish are exceptionally rich in several of these key nutrients such as proteins, lipids, vitamins and minerals.
Researchers from WorldFish and the Department of Human Nutrition at the University of Zambia are now collecting detailed information about the current role of chisense in the diet of the poor. This work involves interviewing representative communities and households about their access to sufficient and nutritious food, for example how many meals each family member eats per day. The survey is also establishing how nutrition and food security varies with seasonal fish supply and socio-economic status.
On the basis of this research, the National Food and Nutrition Commission will develop detailed guidelines for including chisense in nutrition support programs in the country targeted at particularly vulnerable and food insecure populations.

Creating a ripple effect throughout the region

The outputs and partnerships created during the 12‐month project are expected to become building blocks of the CGIAR Research Program on Aquatic Agricultural Systems in Luapula and to be applied widely in Zambia over the next six to twelve years.

The first phase of a longer‐term collaboration, the project is also generating lessons and methods for more comprehensive research and development programs to secure nutrition for future generations in sub-Saharan Africa.