Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Entrepreneurship

So I've been reading over this report on the state of Aquaculture in Malawi. While reading about the history of international efforts to promote small-scale aquaculture in Malawi I started thinking about how vibrant the entrepreneurship climate is in South Korea, my former home. There many, many, people ( I don't have statistics) either had their own, usually family-run business, were friends with people that did, or were thinking of starting one. And at least anecdotally many of these people I met had, I judge, "good heads" for business and a willingness to work hard and sacrifice in the short-term in hope of long-term success. I greatly admired this about many Koreans and still do. However I also saw how often and quickly new small businesses in Korea failed. Most of the storefronts on one of the main streets of my neighborhood changed once or twice just in the short two years that I lived there. Competition is fierce in Korea and consumer expectations are very high.

As a small-business owner myself now I know what a stressful and difficult occupation it can be and am increasingly skeptical about the extent to which it is the ideal lifestyle for most people. Although on balance I am very happy with my life here on the shores of Lake Malawi I admit that most people would probably not choose to live as I do.

In Malawi I see a lot of keen entrepreneurs as well. My Tonga language instructor is one of them. Besides teaching my wife and I Tonga he probably has 4 or 5 other ways of earning an income that he balances on a daily basis. But here too, again at least anecdotally, I see most people who try to start their own business having a very rough time at it. The barriers here are usually insurmountable. Lack of financing opportunities, education, transport, materials, fuel, and electricity (just to name a few) are all major hurdles for any young enterprising entrepreneur.

Which brings me back to this status report on Aquaculture in Malawi. The report outlines how efforts to educate, finance, and in general support small-scale fish farmers in Malawi have met with very limited success. During the 70s and 80s this lack of success was blamed on, among other things, a centralized and "top-down" approach to technical assistance. Since the 90s that approach has been abandoned but other challenges, mostly to do with the extreme poverty of the fish farmers themselves, have led to sub-optimal outcomes.

The report also briefly details the efforts of a couple private companies that have started aquaculture businesses though frustratingly it doesn't state whether or not they are profitable. It also talks about how, in regards to cage-style aquaculture, there is insufficient legislation to guide potential investors in it.

The report is emphatic, however, that the demand for fish in Malawi is very much higher than the current supply can keep up with. And so my question is, given that no local company, of whatever-scale, has managed to establish itself and meet this demand after 40 years of international assistance, why has the Malawian government not attempted to create adequate incentives and legislation whereby a large-scale international aquaculture company could establish itself in Malawi, create jobs for Malawians, and meet the market demand for fish?

Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur. But most people still want a job. In an increasingly globalized world, I worry about the extent to which international aid efforts to promote small-scale entrepreneurship in African countries, whether in aquaculture or elsewhere, have shifted African governments' attention too much away from creating institutional and legal environments that are attractive to international companies that could provide real jobs and real services to people who desperately need them in African countries.


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Friday, August 12, 2011

News from the Beach

Well it looks like the rest of the "modern" world is falling apart
again economically but out here on the beach the weather is fine and
the fish are getting down right huge. Yesterday afternoon we spotted
quite a few 40cm chambos and other species. For cichlids thats quite
big.

-Monica, our resident biologist at the Maru, is settling in well and
already knows the fish better than I do. We've also started
collecting weather statistics and water quality indicators and will
begin doing our underwater population and biodiversity surveys at the
end of the month.

-Ever since we first arrived here at Kande I've been seeing fish that
I couldn't find in any of our three fish identification books. This
is not really surprising since an estimated 1/3 of the fish in the
lake are yet to be properly scientifically described and identified
but until now I haven't been able to verify whether or not the fish I
have been seeing are truly undiscovered species or whether I just
don't have a complete list of known cichlid fish. Well that has
changed now that the Maru has an underwater camera to take snapshots
of our potential new finds. If anyone knows how one can properly
identify and describe a new species in a scientifically recognized way
please contact us at info@themaru.org.

-Tonga words for the day- chirwa = island, watu=paddle/oar
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Monday, August 1, 2011

The Maru.org is up and running! and other News from the Beach

-Finally after a month of struggling with our (crap) internet connection I have managed to upload The Maru research center’s website. Check it out at www.themaru.org. I am really very excited about the future of the Maru. Maru (마루) is a Korean word that refers to the central room in a traditional Korean hanok home in which guests are entertained, meals are eaten, and information is shared. Our goal for The Maru research center is that it too can be a place where Malawians and everyone else can come together to learn, share, and simply enjoy each other’s company while learning about Lake Malawi and those who depend on it. As a volunteer-powered research center we are passionate about teaching our volunteer researchers valuable surveying and diving techniques and methodologies and are now officially accepting volunteer applications. For more information on our volunteer program, click here.

We also welcome university students, whether at the graduate or undergraduate level, to contact us with their research interests to see how we might host and assist them in their pursuits.

Finally it is our goal to make partnerships with local Malawian and international educational institutions in order to promote greater study of Lake Malawi and those who live near it and we invite interested institutions to contact us to see how we might work together.

-If you have been following the news you may have heard that there were some demonstrations in Malawi on the 20th of July. For better informed commentary on them than I can provide check out Haba na Haba’s blog and various Malawian online newspaper’s coverage of the events at www.nationmw.net or www.nyasatimes.com. At The Maru and Aquanuts we like to focus more on what’s happening below the water than above it but we do hope that the problems facing Malawians can be resolved peacefully and swiftly. At the Lake all has been calm and life continues as normal.

- Male black chambos, a species of cichlid that is particularly loved on the dinner table here in Malawi, have been very busy making their mating nests lately. These holes in the sandy lake floor can reach huge proportions often measuring over a meter in diameter and half a meter deep. Take a look at this picture of one.

- Winter and the windy season are coming to a close out here and although it’s been great to be able to snuggle up in a nice thick duvet at night I am excited for a little warmer weather.

- Oh and if you do find any glitches over at themaru.org please do let me know by shooting me an email at info@themaru.org.


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