WorldFish is an international non-profit organization working in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, and it develops and implements innovative ways of addressing poverty and hunger in a sustainable manner, with a focus on aquatic food systems. In seeking to contribute to building a food-secure future globally, WorldFish is the lead institution for the CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agri-Food Systems (FISHCRP). This end-of-project report is an evaluation of a project known as inclusive business and entrepreneurial models (IBEMs) in which WorldFish piloted inclusive business and entrepreneurial models for smallholder fish farmers and poor value chain actors from May 2019 to December 2022 across six (6) districts of southern Malawi, namely: Blantyre, Mulanje, Mwanza, Phalombe, Thyolo, and Zomba.
Part of sustaining small-scale fisheries includes enhancing inclusivity, resilience, and innovation within the food systems. This evaluation focused on the project’s four (4) outputs viz.: i) Inclusive business and entrepreneurial models (IBEMs) established and functional to service local smallholder farmers, ii) Innovation platforms with private and public actors established and functional, iii) Innovative training materials, developed and used, regarding best management practices, business skills development, and entrepreneurship, and iv) Assessments performed evaluating the efficacy of the IBEMs, innovation platforms, and training materials and approaches. The evaluation employed a mixed-method design comprising qualitative and quantitative approaches using secondary data (project reports and publications), survey questionnaires, key informant interviews as well as focus group discussions for fish farmers, feed, and hatchery operators, and observations in the field. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC) evaluation tool was used to measure the impact of the project following six criteria.
Findings reflect that the project objectives were met reasonably well by fulfilling the targets of number of farmers involved in the project, establishing IBEMs and associated innovation platforms as well as capacity building through training on best management practices, business skills development, and entrepreneurship. An evaluation of these targets, processes and platforms indicate that the project was inclusive with a fair representation of women but marginal involvement of youths. Despite this, the youth are beginning to show interest in fish farming which presents an opportunity for further engagement in the future especially as there were no statistically significant differences in responses across gender, education, and income levels. Also, several impacts of the project were noted in the categories of access, training, production and productivity, income and profitability, inclusivity, and nutritional diversity.
The project improved access to fish feed and seed to farmers to a great extent (though women farmers seem to have less access as compared to men), and significant portions of project farmers (<80%) were trained and almost all (<98%) who were interviewed found the training beneficial. Resultantly, this increased the production and productivity of fish which was reflected in increased harvesting cycles, fish size, and quality. In turn, this translated to increased sales and therefore improved income and profitability as outputs of the project, while outcomes also entail improved nutritional diversity and increased consumption of fish by farmer households (to a small extent). Other project outcomes include an appreciation of fish farming as a commercial venture and piqued interest by partners such as the government of Malawi.
Despite the seeming success of the project, there is room for improvement as several challenges were noted, such as low fingerling stocking rates and low purchasing rates of feed by a substantial portion of the respondent farmers who cited lack of funds as the main challenge. So, although the project improved access, there are other underlying issues at hand that contributed to less uptake of both fish feed and seed. This presents an opportunity for addressing this gap in future engagements with the fish farmers. For the feed and seed operators (FOs and SOs, respectively), their story was more positive as they were well-represented gender-wise, received training, and felt well-capacitated in proffering the fish feed and hatchery operations beyond the project. This is despite mixed feelings about the sustainability of the FOs and HOs without the project’s assistance by some project partners and farmers, particularly as the source of feed is external to Malawi. Both project partners and the FOs and HOs were appreciative of the training undertaken during the project and generally indicated that they would continue using the training and training materials.
The OECD-evaluation matrix reflected the following impacts of the project:
Relevance: Despite the challenges faced especially in accessing commercial feed, the project was relevant to the context of the access to feed and seed and training in aquaculture practice for small-scale fish farmers in the project districts and given the existing demand for both commercial feed and fingerlings. This is especially true for the youth who applauded the project but lamented that they were mostly left out of participating in the project as individuals.
Effectiveness: The project was effective in improving access to feed and fingerlings for farmers who reported having to travel long distances to buy these supplies before the project, as well as being able to train other farmers after having received training themselves. Women cooperatives indicated efficiency in that, before the project, they started the cycle with around 300-450 fingerlings but now they start the cycle with around 800-950 fingerlings. Fish consumption has also increased following the enhanced production levels. Additionally, the training received by project participants as well as the platforms used seemed effective.
Efficiency: Farmers reported a reduction in fish mortality owing to claims that seed is now available from nearby HOs whereas, before, the fingerlings would reach the destination in a frail state. In addition, where they used to fish feed once a day, the fish farmers have transitioned to feeding the fish twice a day due to increased access and availability. As well, there is a claim that fingerlings are now growing faster because of the production know-how as well as commercial feed. In this regard, the IBEMs intervention has been efficient in addressing the access and training gap as well as production deficiencies, among other benefits.
Visibility: Given that WF mainly engaged with IBEMs as opposed to the farmers themselves, the visibility of the project with the farmers appears to be quite an issue. When asked if they knew WorldFish and the project in engagements, some of the farmers expressed ignorance and would talk more about the IBEMs. WorldFish ranked the least on who the training provider was. ‘Other’ (which mostly was GIZ) was the most common project mentioned. From observations, it did not appear as if there were even any branded WorldFish training materials with any of the respondents.
Impact: The project’s impact may be suppressed as highlighted by still low harvests, limited training, and expensive fish feed. However, reports indicate that HOs and SOs have now been empowered to enable farmers to begin to make meaningful contributions to their enterprises. For instance, before the project, they would exclusively feed fish with maize bran and soya in an ad hoc manner. Now they use commercial feed and follow a timetable, leading to a discernible improved quality of harvested fish, which is claimed to taste better and is now bigger in size. Another notable impact of FOs and HOs is the provision of feed and fingerlings which was the main purpose for their involvement in the project. Feed sourced from several commercial feed-making companies in Zambia was made available to the farmers at reasonable prices, something which they (farmers) could not do on their own. Although the IBEMs project produced these impacts in the intervention areas, positive changes in livelihoods cannot be attributed to the project alone due to other interventions in the same areas.
Sustainability: IBEMs also agreed about the profitability of the aquaculture business in selling seed or feed (83.3%), confirming the prospects of the project’s sustainability because these institutions will likely continue operating beyond the project’s phase. The establishment of IBEMs is in-itself a mark of sustainability (hence a workable project design) as these would continue to provide aquaculture products namely seed, feed, and knowledge beyond the project. The IBEMs model is thus, effective, and sustainable. Since IBEMs had to meet certain criteria as a pre-condition to receiving the initial cost of investment such as feed, broodstock, and technical support, ideally, they should be able to continue providing these services on economies of scale under a business model. For instance, SOs should be able to sell fingerlings and make money within their clusters and educate farmers on how to transport, stock, and manage the fingerlings so that farmers can have good yields and become regular customers.
Recommendations: The inclusion of youth, the specific constraints facing youth in rural Malawi, and what might enable their greater involvement in fish farming, require much more focused attention. There needs to be greater consideration of class differentiation in rural Malawi, including amongst crop-fish farmers, as well as the diverse agrarian histories and pathways across the countryside. This would include understanding how the introduction of fish farming projects becomes embedded in pre-existing class-agrarian systems, to avoid these projects unwittingly reproducing or even heightening rural class differentiation. It appears also, that the project focused almost exclusively on the upstream parts of the value chain, specifically the inputs of seed, feed, training, and equipment, and little attention was paid to the downstream parts of the value chain, including value-adding activities and marketing of fish and fish products. It seems that most support was given to the IBEMs and not to the fish farmers themselves, including regarding training but also, as indicated earlier, with respect to the provision of credit which fish farmers claim is an absolute necessity. This means that, in terms of the value chain, the site or sphere of production (the fish farm) received less attention than the sphere of circulation (i.e., the market, and specifically the input market)