Participatory action research fish feed trials with smallholder farmers in Northern Province, Zambia


Growth and water quality data collected systematically with farmers cultivating indigenous tilapia in earthen ponds in rural Zambia is non-existent. The lack of data is due in part because of inadequate human and financial resources but also the approach that many organizations use to implement and monitor and evaluate aquaculture activities in rural areas. WorldFish scientists and district Department of Fisheries (DoF) officers started implementing fish feed trials in 2016 with 38 fish farmers (19 females and 19 males) in Luwingu and Mbala Districts of Northern Province, Zambia as part of a larger research in development project funded by Irish Aid. Two indigenous tilapia species (Oreochromis macrochir and Oreochromis tanganicae, respectively in the two districts) were stocked in farmers’ ponds (10 x 10m) at a stocking density of 3 fish/m2 testing three different treatments: feed only (maize meal + soy beans), manure only, and feed + manure. Growth monitoring was carried out monthly during the trials with each farmer, including the sampling of 30 fish/pond to measure weight and length as well as collecting water quality parameters (pH, dissolved oxygen, and temperature) over a six-month period. The trials were implemented using a participatory action research methodology that enabled WorldFish and DoF officers to collect the data while simultaneously developing capacities of rural farmers; many of whom had never received such extension support to date. Farmers participating in the feed trials were trained on formulating improved feeds, good management practices, and collecting growth and water quality data. This paper presents the growth and water quality trends over the course of the trials, the first study of its kind to report such results of local tilapia species and pond water conditions in rural Zambia. The paper also details a relatively novel approach that research and development organizations can use not only to increase the likelihood of implementing successful aquaculture development projects, but also to collect important data that are missing from the extant literature on aquaculture in Zambia. This is important in the Zambian context given the recent growth in the aquaculture sector (driven mostly by larger-scale commercial farmers) and a desire by the Government and international donors to ensure aquaculture growth throughout the country is inclusive moving forward.