What do fish ponds and snowflakes have in common?

They’re both made of water.

Juuust kidding. No two are alike!

Over the past few weeks I’ve been visiting a lot of fish farmers and prospective fish farmers. It’s exciting; they’re all so different from one other and each pond reflects the cumulative effect of widely varying motivations, resources, and physical landscapes from farm to farm and from farmer to farmer.


Last Wednesday Sebastian and I biked to the boma to meet with officials at the Department of Fisheries and World Vision district offices regarding ongoing initiatives to develop small-scale fish farming in Nchelenge. On our way back home, we stopped near Kambwali to visit one of the other lead fish farmers in the district. Benjamin Mpundu “is strong, very strong,” Sebastian muttered to me, no slouch himself. One look at the collection of fish ponds this lean, wiry man has single-handedly carved into the hillside like terraces proved evidence to this observation.


“But he has little knowledge of pond construction,” my counterpart added confidently. “We can help him.”

We spent the next hour dispensing advice for the new ponds that Ba Benjamin is digging, jumping in and getting our hands dirty (Sebastian), and taking pictures of the delighted kids who gawked at the muzungu the entire time (me).



A few weeks ago I visited members of a fish farming group in Shabo Market, a community about 8 kilometers to the south of Nshinda. As I took an extended tour of their farms, checking out various ponds, I offered advice on maintenance and construction and took important technical notes in my notebook such as “pond is hidden behind banana trees and shaped kind of like a triangle. It looks like LOST up in here.”


The youngest fish farmer in the group, Samson (tallest kid, center right), can’t be more than 15 years old, a number which is approximately thirteen more fish than the maximum this little swimming hole can support based on standard stocking ratios. I emphasized that he has a great start and gently suggested that his next step might be to make the pond a bit bigger.


Ba Mulenga is a farmer who doesn’t yet have any fish ponds, but he’s prepared a great pond site on his oasis-like farm tucked away at the end of a long, winding bush path. I visited the site and found that it’s ideally situated for easy future expansion into digging more ponds, has a stream with year-round water flowing nearby, and is situated directly adjacent to the garden so the pond effluent can easily be used to irrigate his crops. It’s the RAP site selection equivalent of a home run.


Two days later I arrived at our scheduled meeting place and time to help stake his pond and Ba Mulenga was nowhere to be found. I waited an hour to make sure he wasn’t on Zamtime, then biked another half hour to his farm to see if he was already there. He wasn’t. I finally took off, a bit disgruntled. I remembered that you need to come to the plate before you can hit it over the fence. Oh well. We’ll try again next week.

Ba Enock is one of the more relatively well-established fish farmers in the area on the simple basis that he has fish. It’s a tenuous distinction; the two large ponds on the edge of his Chinese cabbage garden aren’t maintained and are thus in various states of disrepair. However, he tossed in some cabbage leaves and sure enough, fish started feeding on the surface.


Ba Enock is either a closet optimist underneath his ever-present scowl or he must have the world’s dryest sense of humor, because he dragged me through hectares of tall, scratchy grass so that I could inspect several puddles which he called ponds without a trace of irony. “Take a picture of the pond,” he said expansively. So I did.


Ba Davis wins the award for being my most industrious fish farmer at the moment. On a Tuesday afternoon he showed me two freshly dug small ponds, side by side. He had just completed them the week before and they were tiny, measuring 2×3 and 2×6 meters each. With a typical stocking rate of 1 fish per square meter, the smaller pond wouldn’t be able to hold more than six fish.

6-8 months is a long time to wait for six fish to reach harvestable size, I told him. If you combine the ponds into one larger pond and start making it wider, you’ll increase the maximum potential fish yield. Ba Davis nodded knowingly. You’ll be able to grow more fish and make more money, I added helpfully. His eyes lit up. Bingo.


I returned to visit that Friday and he showed me with no small amount of pride an entirely new pond he had dug right next to the other two. It measured 2×4. That’s eight more fish.

In my notebook I jotted down, “Making progress, panono panono (little by little).”



2 thoughts on “What do fish ponds and snowflakes have in common?

  1. The first ponds reveal a farmer that is motivated to do it right. I heartily recommend as large a pond as possible, as it buffers against lethal changes in water chemistry and disease. If you have a great water supply, you can go higher densities with a raceway type system.

    The tiny “ponds’ made me laugh because it’s the same thinking here in the US; if a fish can swim it it it should be able to thrive. (ummm, no)

    Now the fun begins!

  2. Love what your dad said. I knew he would chime in on the pond construction and the actual process of raising fish. The “small ponds” (reminds me of the “small house” movement) are so cute. It must be great to finally be out there and meeting the people interested in fish farming.

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