Fish is a diet staple in Solomon Islands, a country of 992 islands surrounded by productive coastal fisheries. But for inland communities, where fresh fish are expensive to buy and supply is irregular, fish consumption is often low.
“In the past, normally my family did not eat fish for around half of the year… sometimes we just lived without thinking about eating fish,” explains Moses Liukalia from Taflankwasa, Malaita Province, who farms fish for home consumption.
Faced with few options, families often resort to buying tinned fish to supplement household diets, which rely heavily on sweet potato, rice, cassava, taro and noodles.
To determine if fish farming could help improve household food and nutrition security, the ACIAR-funded Developing inland aquaculture in Solomon Islands project conducted participatory action research, which involved farmers as researchers themselves, between March 2012 and August 2015.
Farmers already doing, or interested in starting, aquaculture were asked to collectively select five husbandry practices to implement in their ponds.
They chose: maintain water depth of 1-1.5 m, fertilize with animal manure, feed twice daily with local ingredients, stock ponds with less than 10 fish per square meter, and harvest fish greater than 10 cm long every three to four months.
"Eating fish now depends on when we like to eat; we just go and harvest the fish. We don’t have to depend on money.” - fish farmer Moses Liukalia.
The farmers implemented these practices, with project officers doing monthly field visits to provide advice and recommendations. “By following these new practices, farmers achieved better results from their ponds,” explains project coordinator Reuben Sulu.
“The farmers started doing regular, partial harvests of fish for consumption and to sell in the market, which they hadn’t done before. They also started thinking of new ways to boost their yield, such as separating male and female fish and trialing new types of feed,” he says.
By the project’s end, 87 households had established household ponds to grow Mozambique tilapia.
After seeing his neighbor’s good yields from aquaculture, Moses Liukalia was inspired to try his hand at farming Mozambique tilapia. He dug his pond to the recommended size and established a water inlet and outlet.
By following these practices, Moses too got good results. “The first time, I pulled out plenty of fish. I was very happy… and I was eagerly looking forward to see what my second harvest would be like,” says the father-of-five, who has since built a second pond to increase his production.
Around every two months, Moses harvests tilapia, which his wife Lovelyn cooks and serves with rice and potato. “Eating fish now depends on when we like to eat; we just go and harvest the fish. We don’t have to depend on money,” says Moses.
Because Mozambique tilapia is small, the fish is often cooked whole. By eating the head, organs and bones, individuals benefit from the many micronutrients present in fish including zinc, iron, vitamin A and calcium.
Improved nutrition is just one of many benefits fish farming has created explains Lovelyn.
“The greatest benefit is that it’s a sure source of protein for my family, which adds to the livelihood opportunities we currently depend on,” she says. “Also my children no longer go far to fish in rivers, which is quite worrying because of the risk of drowning.”
Lovelyn plays a key role in the maintaining the family’s fish ponds by maintaining the ponds and feeding the fish regularly. However, this vital role of women is often overlooked in Solomon Islands, where fishing is seen as men’s business.
“Women can be influential in ensuring continuous fish farming since they are the ones who stay at home most of the time, especially during the absence of husbands,” she says, referring to her husband Moses who now works full-time as a public transport truck driver.
Acknowledging this, the project focused on encouraging women to participate in the project’s workshops, which Lovelyn did and found to be inspiring.
“The motivation came as I realized that us women can also be a part of fish farming.”
Moses supports his wife’s role and her efforts, saying, “This shared role is important in fish farming to ensure we have sustainable production to provide fish for our family.”
By 2030, Solomon Islands is expected to have a shortfall in food fish supply of 6000 to 20,000 metric tons, driven by a growing population, the impacts of climate change and overfishing on inshore reef fisheries.
The project’s results demonstrate that aquaculture can contribute to improved nutrition and food security in Solomon Islands. Recognizing this, the Solomon Islands Government added household aquaculture to the revised National Aquaculture Strategy and Development Plan 2015-18.
With the wider uptake of good husbandry practices by husbands and wives alike, aquaculture in the Solomon Islands can make a meaningful contribution to domestic fish supply, especially for inland communities.