Fish Farming Project in Tanzania: Women’s Involvement as Key to Alleviating Hunger
Barbara Benson, MS, RD (Nutritionist)
Meredith Murnyak, MS (Aquaculturist)
Fish Farming Project/Diocese in Arusha Region
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania
Rural aquaculture is a newly developed method of food production in Tanzania. An existing project begun in 1984 in the Arusha Region has been successful in promoting pond construction and fish production. However, the presence of high protein food in the home does not necessarily improve the nutritional status or health of the fish farming family. While the whole family is involved in aquaculture, training efforts often focus on the men. Women, however, spend more time in both pond management and post-harvest fish preparation. Often the importance of the women’s role and their training is overlooked. If fish farming, however, is to have a positive impact in alleviating hunger and improving the nutrition and health of fish farming families, training of both women and men is essential. Deliberate attempts must be made to involve women in planning and implementing extension programs. Training should use a holistic approach that deals not only with food production but also nutrition and food preparation, health and family planning.
In 1984 an integrated fish farming development project was initiated by the Diocese in Arusha Region of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (ELCT). The project aims to teach fish farming techniques to increase food production and improve nutrition and health in the villages. The project focuses on small farmers and uses training by extension.
Initially farmers were taught individually on their own farms. As the number of ponds increased, the project’s emphasis shifted to training volunteer motivators who promote and teach fish farming in their own communities. In attempt to broaden women’s understanding and participation in the fish-farming project, bi-weekly women’s meetings were begun in 1987 in several villages.
The Fish Farming Project (FFP) has been well received in Tanzania and could serve as a model to be used in other developing countries. As of April 1993 over 800 new ponds in 70 villages have been developed through the project. Unfortunately, the building of fish ponds and the presence of high protein food in the home does not guarantee an improvement in the diet or health of the family. Without a basic knowledge of nutrition and food preparation, families could continue to live much as they have prior to involvement in the project. This paper focuses on fish farming in family-owned ponds as a means of combating hunger and improving nutrition for families living in rural Tanzania. Involving women in project planning, fish farming training, and nutrition education, and is crucial for the project’s long term success.
Family Involvement in Aquaculture
The following is a division of labor typically seen in families involved in fish farming, based on the authors’ observations and interviews:
| Initiating project
| Pond construction
| Pond maintenance and repair
| Care and feeding of fish
|| Woman and Children
| Intermediate harvesting
|| Women and Children
| Final harvest
| Selling fish
| Preserving and cooking fish
This breakdown is for the “average” family and has exceptions. For instance, other family members, neighbors, and paid laborers often assist with pond construction. In addition, several women have developed fish ponds on their own in homes where men were not present.
At first glance it appears that the greatest number of the fish farming activities are done by men. However, a closer examination reveals that women spend a greater amount of time in actual fish farming work. The care and feeding of the fish are daily tasks that are essential for obtaining a good harvest. Although men have a primary role in the initial construction phase and later in the harvesting and selling, it is the women who give the most time and energy involvement in the raising of fish and later in food preparation and preservation.
Effect of Fish Farming on Family Nutrition
There are two main ways to harvest fish from ponds. Intermediate fish harvests can begin 3 to 6 months after stocking, as soon as the fish become large enough to eat (60-80 grams). Fish can be harvested for several months and are often kept by the women for family consumption rather than being sold. During this time fish can be a significant component in the family diet and have a good potential for improving the family’s nutritional status.
The final harvest takes place when the majority of the fish reach a harvest weight of 80-120 grams. Final harvests are often managed by the man who determines the family’s use of its fish crop. If the goal in fish farming is to improve family nutrition then the majority of the crop is often kept for home consumption. However, if a cash income is preferred then the entire fish crop can be sold. Fish can also be excluded from the family diet after the final harvest when fish preservation techniques are not known and the family can only keep a 2 to 3 day supply of fish.
Therefore, in evaluating aquaculture development, while it is customary and relatively easy to report the number of ponds built and the weight of the fish harvested in a project, these factors alone do not accurately reflect the project’s success nor the impact on the local communities. When the overall goal is to increase food production in order to improve the people’s nutritional status and health, a thorough evaluation must consider how the fish produced are used within the family and the community. Preliminary studies have begun in this project to investigate this question.
Malnutrition is a complex problem that cannot be solved by the addition of high protein foods to the diet alone. Swantz (1985) lists a number of factors contributing to malnutrition in Tanzania including alcoholism, broken homes, frequent births, land shortage, traditional beliefs, and the economic situation of the society. Fish farming alone cannot be expected to make enormous changes in family nutritional patterns. A holistic approach to training which emphasizes the interrelatedness of food production and preparation, nutrition, health, and family planning is needed.
Aquaculture Training for Families
Successful fish farming which improves nutrition requires training that involves the whole family. It can be easy to overlook the importance of women in aquaculture since the work is started and completed by men. A compatible working relationship often develops between the male extension worker and the village men. Consequently men often receive the majority of initial and ongoing farming training. Women’s participation and understanding in the project from the outset is essential. If women do not have a good understanding of fish farming techniques or the basics of nutrition and food preparation, their families are likely to experience little benefit from their involvement in the project. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to gain access to rural women and to develop avenues of training that are effective.
Although rural women are primarily involved in the agricultural sector, they do not naturally become involved in training activities. Often their excessive workloads and work in the home keep them from attending meetings and seminars. Nor can it be assumed that information provided to men will automatically be passed on to women at home. It can also be difficult for the extension worker to meet with the women during home visits, as women are often occupied with food preparation for these guests.
One approach to working with women that has been used successfully in East Africa is through women’s groups (Crowley, 1985). The Fish Farming Project has found that women’s meetings enable the extension worker to work with rural women more effectively. While in mixed meetings women are often shy and uninvolved, they participate more readily and take on leadership roles when meeting with women alone. One key to the success of women’s groups is to encourage and enable leadership within these groups.
An Integrated Agricultural Training Center is now being built by the Diocese of Arusha Region of the ELCT. Fish farming research, training and development will be major components of this center. Women’s development efforts will focus on the training of community leaders who would serve as motivators to the rural women’s groups. These women motivators would receive training at the center in fish farming practices, nutrition, food preservation and preparation, basic health care, and family planning. They would then work with their respective women’s group in training, as well as planning and facilitating additional programs.
Fish farming is a new method of food production being used in Tanzania which involves the whole family. It is easy to overlook the significance of the women’s role since men are often the decision-makers in the family who initiate the work and receive the most training. Encouraging women’s leadership and training through a women’s motivator education program is key to successfully alleviating hunger and improving the nutritional status of fish farming families.
Crowley, J. 1985. “Discovering Their Potential: The Story of Women’s Groups.” Chapter 4 in Go to the People: An African Experience in Education for Development. Gaba Publications. Nakuru, Kenya.
Swantz, M.J. 1985. Women in Development: A Creative Role Denied? C. Hurst & Co. London.