Mrs Cecilia Zulu besides one of her fishponds
Photo Credit: AICCRA / Kgothatso Mophosho

The private sector is helping to scale the adoption of ‘climate-smart’ aquaculture in Zambia - boosting women’s role one pond at a time

In Zambia—a landlocked country—aquaculture provides a critical source of affordable protein. Scaling training programs developed by WorldFish and supported through AICCRA Zambia partnerships are reaching thousands of fish farmers with practices that are boosting productivity by 70 percent and providing women with a more powerful role in production. 

According to a report led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), fish is an important source of key micronutrients including vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, iodine, and selenium, and of essential fatty acids in the omega-3 family.

In Zambia, fish is an affordable source of animal protein. But due to declining stocks of fish caused by overfishing, unsustainable fishing methods, and the impacts of climate change, the gap between the demand for and supply of fish has widened sharply in recent years.

Zambia can only supply 85,000 metric tonnes of fish per year, whereas demand exceeds 180,000 metric tonnes annualy. This means that demand is mostly met mostly through imports of fish. 

For more resilient livelihoods and greater food security in Zambia, it is vital that increased demand for fish is met by increased production through methods such as aquaculture, and that fish production methods are sustainable. 

‘Aquaculture’ refers to the farming of fish and other aquatic animals.

Cecilia Zulu is one of a new cohort of women in Zambia now embarking on aquaculture. She proudly shows off her two fishponds, which total 560 square metres.

“My husband began the aquaculture project, but as time passed, he handed over the operations and management to me,” Cecilia explains.

Business accelerators for aquaculture SMEs

Cecilia received capacity development and training on aquaculture production through an ‘Aquaculture Accelerator’ led by WorldFish, a CGIAR research center that leads scientific research on aquatic food systems.

The WorldFish accelerator has been providing technical support and private sector partners such as EUNIMOS, a Zambian agriculture, aquaculture and food production small-to-medium-sized enterprise (SME), one of several that have been trained to help farmers establish fishponds.

The training that Cecilia enjoyed focused particularly on ‘climate-smart’ elements of aquaculture, which has helped her to be an effective and efficient fish farmer in a fast changing climate in Southern Africa. 

Climate-smart aquaculture makes use of climatic information to plan aquaculture production. For effective production, aquaculture farmers must understand changes in climate variability, which impacts the timing of cycles of production.

With climate-smart aquaculture, farmers can select sites for fishpond construction, design fishponds for flood or drought-prone area, select appropriate fish species to stock, time fish harvests and control water quality in the fishpond.

In her training, Cecilia and other fish farmers like her learned about key concepts in relation to the weather, climate change, resilience, mitigation, vulnerability, gender, and the importance of integrating both aquaculture and agriculture systems in her community.

The training involved games and decision-making roleplay for critical tasks like site selection, choosing fish species and integrating crops and livestock with aquaculture - depending on rainfall or even floods and droughts. These games helped Cecilia and the other participants understand how theoretical concepts can be applied in real life.

Complementary extension information on fish farming, as well as continued mentorship and coaching, is provided through the private sector and government.

According to Benson Chongo, Managing Director of EUNIMOS, demonstration aquaculture ponds were critical to effectiveness of the training. They provide hands-on experience for fish farmers to go beyond theoretical training and learn by doing, some of which were conducted at EUNIMOS plots.

The project was focused on overcoming the barriers to training that women like Cecilia often face in accessing, using, and controlling aquaculture production. Capture fisheries—that is, the catching fish directly from water bodies—had largely been seen as a role for men in the communities, whereas women were only involved in processing and marketing. 

So, the trainings also targeted women and youth specifically, to promote more inclusivity in aquaculture production. Other ways women fish farmers were reached with training include farmer roadshows and targeted radio programs, which has seen an increase in the participation of Zambian women in aquaculture.

Thanks to the Accelerating Impacts of CGIAR Climate Research in Africa (AICCRA) project, which is backed by the World Bank Group, such training is now being delivered on a larger scale in Zambia. 

AICCRA partnerships across Africa are led by many CGIAR centers and over 90 partner organisations. In Zambia, AICCRA's work is led by the International Water Management Institute (IMWI)

Under the initial aquaculture accelerator, WorldFish worked with four SMEs in northern Zambia, reaching 2,341 farmers in 2020. 14 percent of them were women.

But with AICCRA scaling support, the accelerator expanded to six SMEs, with AICCRA providing a grant of USD 50,000.

In 2022, the number of beneficiaries increased to 15,781—and nearly half of the attendees were women in that year.

Maintaining momentum over three years, in total some 45,154 farmers have been reached by these collaborative efforts, with 36 percent of the total reached being women. 

Cecilia’s story

Cecilia has eagerly adopted what she learned in the training. She now uses droppings from her chickens and manure from her pigs as additional feed for her fish. She also uses the nutrient rich wastewater from the ponds to irrigate vegetables that also provide additional feed for the fish.

Cecilia proudly notes that now she can decide whether to harvest fish for her own family’s consumption or whether to sell it at market - without seeking her husband's permission.

“Before I started getting into aquaculture things were hard…now I can personally make decisions to get fish to feed my family or to sell. …my neighbors admire what I do, and they also want to have fishponds."

She pointed out that this potential additional income from aquaculture has led to improved nutritional and educational outcomes for her children, as she can now more easily afford school equipment or medical prescriptions when they are needed.

Cecilia is encouraging women to invest in aquaculture, “one pond at a time”, as it will increase the well-being of their households.

Another farmer, Lydia, reflected on how her agency within the community have increased, noting that:

“As long as you are willing to work hard and not scared of the mud, you will significantly improve your livelihood”.

AICCRA's approach demonstrated the importance of the private sector partners as a viable scaling pathway – particularly leveraging the potential of agribusiness SMEs.

It starts with the identification of viable private sector firms willing to invest in smallholder aquaculture. It then demands reliable input and output markets in climate-smart aquaculture technologies, for win-win situations that benefit both the private sector and smallholder farmers.  

Farmers win with the availability of a reliable markets for fish and quality fingerlings. Meanwhile the private gains farmers who want to buy inputs from their businesses.

Critically, AICCRA’s grants de-risked the cost of investment in smallholder aquaculture for the six SMEs in its accelerator program. Alongside EUNIMOS was Triple Blessings Center, Kasakalabwe Multi-purpose Cooperative Society, ADSEK Enterprises Ltd, Kasama Arts Theatre, and Hope Ways Enterprises.

As the AICCRA project looks to continue scaling innovation, thanks to additional finance from the World Bank, this private sector-led scaling pathway will be expanded in other provinces within Zambia to ensure that aquaculture farmers have access to—and are using—climate information services to transform livelihoods for all.  


Everisto Mapedza, Netsayi Mudege, Mercy Sichone, Karen Nortje, Agness Chileya, Inga Jacobs-Mata, Kgothatso Mophosho; Munyaradzi Mutenje, Winnie Kasoma-Pele; Sophia Huyer and Therese Gondwe 

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