A five-year pilot project to support fishing in Lake Malawi and conservation on its shores could benefit 300,000 people in the long term.
The Principal Secretary of Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs, George Mkondiwa, said the "Lake Malawi Artisanal Fisheries Development Project" would immediately benefit 12,000 fishermen.
The initiative, launched two weeks ago, aims to improve the livelihood of fishermen in the lakeshore districts of Nkhatabay, Nkhotakota, Salima, Likoma and Mangochi.
Fishing is one of the biggest industries in the country. Mkondiwa pointed out that 70 percent of the country's consumption of animal protein was sourced from fish, and the industry contributes about four percent to the Gross Domestic Product.
The project has received almost US $10.56 million from the African Development Fund, of which US $9.42 is a loan and the remainder a grant.
Mkondiwa told IRIN there were two components of the project - fisheries and forestry.
The fisheries component was designed to empower small-scale fishermen. "We want to encourage them to fish in deeper waters, where the catch would be bigger and better," Mkondiwa said.
Fishermen would be discouraged from casting their nets in shallow waters where the fish breed - a practice that has damaged fish stocks in the lake.
Lake Malawi, a world heritage site, is Africa's third largest fresh water lake and was once home to more than 500 fish species. Mkondiwa said fish-breeding projects initiated by the private sector had been launched to save Malawi's most popular fish, a species of the tilapia family locally known as Chambo.
The fisheries development project will provide potable water, construct working tables, ice-plants to enable the storing and processing of fish, and set up drying racks.
The project will also provide credit to the beneficiaries, allowing them to buy nets, boats, motor-boat engines and lamps, while marketing assistance will help them to achieve better and more stable incomes.
Mkondiwa pointed out that the additional facilities, like the ice-plants, would also create jobs for 100 to 250 people living on the periphery of fishing communities.
The forestry component of the project would include attempts to conserve and replenish forests, and prevent soil eroision along the lake.