From intensive aquaculture to recycling. A story of change from Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania
RESUME: The degree course in aquaculture at Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Tanzania was launched in 2005 with about 10 students registered for the course. The annual intake has continued to increase and is now in the region of 220 students. This growth, however, does not reflect the quality of the education provided.
In spite of the growing number of students, the number of teaching staff was not increased, nor were the teaching and practical training facilities expanded. The quality of the education provided fell significantly and the demand for change grew. When the Building Stronger Universities (BSU) programme was launched at SUA one of its goals was to upgrade both the staff’s teaching techniques and the training facilities. Teachers were trained in problem-based learning, a method that activates the students to think for themselves and learn from practical experience. This allows a teacher to manage a large number of students and at SUA actually reduced the need for increasing the number of teachers. BSU also supported the construction of six large fishponds that are used for training purposes. The impact of this hands-on training can be seen far beyond the university. BSc graduates in aquaculture have ventured into intensive cage fish farming in Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika. Many of them have been successful in starting their own organisations or groups and have received funding from the Tanzanian government through the Building Better Tomorrow (BBT) programme.
The author writes about how the successful turnaround in the quality of education we offer in aquaculture is largely thanks to the experience, passion, and dedication of the members of the BSU programme team.
By Renalda Munubi (PhD) and lecturer, Sokoine University of Agriculture
Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Tanzania launched its aquaculture degree programme back in 2005 with an intake of about 10 students. Since then, the numbers have grown steadily and today 220 students are enrolled each year.
When the programme started, the students had only four small earthen ponds (10 by 20 m) where they could conduct their practical training and project research. Although the number of students increased, the number of training facilities remained unchanged. In addition, the student-to-lecturer ratio increased from 3:1 in 2005 to almost 50:1 in 2022. This made it difficult for lecturers to monitor each student’s level of learning and it was not easy for them to conduct practicals. Moreover, the heavy teaching load left no time for research, and no time for faculty members to do other jobs outside academia. To top it all, most of the existing staff were either about to retire or were heavily into administration. It is hardly surprising that there was an increasing demand for improving the quality of the education offered by the department.
High enrollment posed two main challenges: improving the staff’s teaching techniques and providing adequate teaching facilities. While everyone was wondering what to do and how to do it better to provide quality education to an ever-increasing number of students, the Building Stronger Universities (BSU) programme stepped in with an immediate solution.
New teaching techniques – problem-based learning
In 2012, the BSU supported aquaculture programme was established at Sokoine University to equip researchers and academicians with the appropriate knowledge and skills to spearhead the sustainable development of aquaculture in Tanzania. The intention was also to enable them to teach larger classes.
The teaching staff were trained in using problem-based learning techniques, where practical exercises led to an understanding of theoretical assumptions and concepts. The outcome of all this is amazing. Lecturers make lectures more active, calling on their knowledge and years of practical experience to connect practice and theory. Students are more engaged as their lessons require them to think critically and not just read and write mindlessly. So, despite the high enrollment, students are now more actively involved in their training than ever before because of the problem-centered learning approach.
Furthermore, the critical thinking and problem solving skills the students amass during their studies better prepare them to be powerful forces for change and development in the real world, ready to tackle challenges after graduating head-on from day one. It is a win-win situation: learning through experience makes for a wider, long-lasting, positive impact
New training facilities – six large fishponds
Other factors contributed to this great leap forward besides the improved pedagogical approach. Earlier, I pointed out that the increasing number of students was putting more and more pressure on the teaching facilities, too, and gave the four small earthen fishponds as an example of how inadequate some of them were. As part of the upgrade carried out by the BSU programme, six large fishponds, each of them 600 metres square, were installed for training MSc and BSc students.
The next part of this story describes how these fishponds are used for training students and the socio-economic impact being made by graduates in communities around the great lakes.
Hapa nets are positioned in each pond to produce Nile tilapia seeds. In Tanzania, the aquaculture industry has been hampered by the lack of enough seeds. With six such big ponds, the SUA hatchery can produce a consistent output of high-quality fingerlings. This has allowed students to carry out the breeding and nursing of tilapia seeds at various levels of intensity.
As water is scarce in Tanzania, SUA took the steps necessary to ensure that we have enough water to fill our ponds. We have now a 120 feet deep borehole and we have purchased four plastic tanks with a holding capacity of 10,000 litres each to use for water storage. To replace water loss due to evaporation and seepage, students replenish the water in the earthen ponds once a week from the borehole.
The next step was to install a huge Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) with 12 cylindrical tanks each holding 1000 litres of water. Each tank can produce up to 100 kg of fish in the course of the six month production cycle. Intensifying production to produce more fish using fewer resources is a way of achieving the vision for sustainable food production.
Since the installment of RAS in 2020, students have been able to practise fish production at high stocking density and the results are encouraging. Most of the BSc graduates in aquaculture are now venturing into intensive cage fish farming in Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika. Many of them have been successful in starting up their own fish farming organisations or groups and have managed to receive funding from the Tanzanian government through the Building Better Tomorrow (BBT) programme.
It would be impossible to train students without such facilities. SUA is now able to offer quality training to the more than 600 BSc aquaculture students who are at present enrolled for the three-year course of study. The extraordinary increase in student intake from 230 in 2021/2022 to 250 in 2022/2023 alone can be seen as a measure of the rise in standard of the courses offered in aquaculture.
The successful turnaround in the quality of the education we offer in aquaculture is largely thanks to the experience, passion, and dedication of the members of the BSU programme team. They must be applauded for their dedication, passion, and experience. They have ensured that SUA researchers are capable of engaging effectively in teaching and research activities.
Edited by Kate GirvanGo back to all stories