It’s no fish tale!

There’s something fishy going on at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Malawi.


In a word…Aquaponics! Aqua-what?

I know. That’s what I said, too. I tried looking up the word in my American Heritage Dictionary and it’s not even in there! Well, ok, it’s understandable – the copyright is 1976.

But now-a-days, the word and the system are growing in popularity.

Aquaponics. It can be defined simply as growing fish and plants together for food in a constructed ecosystem.1

But at the Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI)?

I thought the LBI is for Malawian and Zambian men who are interested in becoming full time ministers of the gospel…for ones who study Greek and Hebrew and learn how to preach? And besides that, even though our Lord Jesus ate fish,2 (not so sure if he ate all his veggies!) didn’t he call Peter and other disciples away from the lake, boats, and nets to become fishers of men?

Then why Aquaponics at the LBI?

Consider the country of Malawi itself. It is a developing country rated consistently one of the poorest (often THE poorest) in the world. It is often battered by droughts and floods. Population, huge, land mass, small. Much of the soil is depleted of nutrients. Fertilizer is crazy expensive. Despite huge Lake Malawi, fish even more-so! Hunger season knocks on many doors in January, February and March – every year.

Oh what a blessing it would be to have fish and fresh vegetables for a meal!3

For some, Aquaponics could turn that dream into dinner.

But it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time for the system to get up and running. Or literally, GROWING!

In order for that to happen, this is what has to happen: the water from the fish tank, which contains waste products from the fish, has to be pumped into the grow beds that contain gravel but no soil. Bacteria that break down fish waste and turn it into plant fertilizer then has to develop in the gravel. The plant roots grow into the gravel and help clean the water that has to be pumped back into the fish tank.3

Aquaponics system

End result? Fish and veggies that can be eaten and/or sold!
However, Dr. Robert C. Anderson,5 Professor of Biology at Wisconsin Lutheran College and founder of the Aquaponics program at the school, will tell you that the fish and the greens are not whole of it. There really is much more to Aquaponics than just Chambo and “Chinese.”4

“The goals of this outreach effort are enhancing food security, developing Christian leaders as trainers and creating opportunities to share the Gospel in a broad range of communities.”6

And that’s why it has now come to the LBI.

The students and others now are equipped with the training and knowledge of this breakthrough technology. This program serves as a “test case” for Malawi. If it is the Lord’s will, He can open up the doors – and the fish tanks and grow beds – of opportunities as He sees fit!

Dr. Anderson was keen to offer this Aquaponics program to the LCCA-Malawi Synod as a tool to offer Christ-centered community development that will assist with food security and meet the other goals as well. He submitted his proposal to the leadership in the LCCA- Malawi Synod and they accepted.

Dr. John Werner and Erin Nitz at the LBI aquaponics system

Dr. Anderson was unable to travel to Malawi to set up the program, however, two others were able to do so over the 2016 Christmas holiday break: Dr. John Werner and Erin Nitz.7

Dr. Werner is a Professor of Biology at Wisconsin Lutheran College. He has been teaching at WLC since 2012. Three of his classes include Genetics, Micro-Biology and Bio-Chemistry. Now he can add Aquaponics to his list! And he now has the teaching experience of an open air classroom under the trees and in the mud in Malawi! With the fish in the tank and the seeds in the beds, Dr.

Werner is both thankful and hopeful: “The time I have spent in Malawi has truly been an exceptional experience. God has blessed me with the opportunity to meet and appreciate the dedicated missionaries and their families, the hard-working LBI students, and the gracious workers at the institute. It is my hope that the knowledge I have shared and the aquaponics system we assembled will be a blessing to the LBI and all the people they serve.”

Erin Nitz is a third year WLC student majoring in nursing. She is working in the Aquaponics lab at the school and has taken on this Aquaponics venture in Malawi for class credit. Erin was born and raised in Malawi and not only that – she even lived for 8 years on the LBI campus! So Erin was delighted to have the opportunity to set up this program in her own “back yard” and visit her family8 at the same time. Now that the two week project is all in place, Erin shares these thoughts as the teaching program winds down in Malawi:

“Before formally proposing the Aquaponics initiative in Africa, some of the most important advice given to us was to find individuals locally who would lead the project. As promised, the significant success of the project thus far is largely due to those individuals who have the humility to learn, the motivation and skill to work, and the respect from their community to lead. The first fruit harvested from this initiative has been the revealing of God’s powerful blessings of leadership within the LCCA. It is our prayer that God uses that leadership not only for the spread of aquaponics in central Africa but for the spread of His kingdom.” 

So now if you do hear of something fishy going on in Malawi, you know that it’s actually true…

It’s no fish tale!
Sharpening my fillet knife,
Your Malawi Missionary Partner,
John Holtz

  1. Aquaponics: Incorporating Small Scale Aquaponics into Education, document by Zachary Pappenfuss, page one.
  2. Luke 24:36-43
  3. “The main purpose of the fish is to provide fertilizer for the high yield of produce; fish generate supplemental income when they are harvested.” (Excerpt from “Specific Parameters for the Aquaponics Program in Malawi,” the working document compiled by Dr. Bob Anderson and Ms. Erin Nitz; page one)
  4. The fish that do well in Aquaponic systems is Tilapia, or as it is called in Malawi, “Chambo.” These fish can handle a broad range of temperatures. The vegetables that can grow well in these systems in Malawi are Chinese Cabbage (known locally in Malawi as just “Chinese,” spinach, lettuce and rape (green leafed vegetable related to the broccoli and turnip family). Herbs also grow well. The LBI students planted Coriander, Basil and Thyme.
  5. Bob Anderson has set up an International Aquaponics Lab at WLC and has set up an Aquaponics program at Grace School and Church in Grenada.
  6. Lutheran Aquaponics Project Proposal Submitted to the Lutheran Church of Central Africa – Malawi from Dr. Robert C. Anderson, October 17,2016, page 1.
  7. They set up the program in Malawi from 27 December 2016 – 08 January 2017. They also set up the same program in Zambia form 09 January – 20 January 2017.
  8. Erin’s parents are WELS missionary Paul Nitz and his wife Susan. Siblings are (from oldest to youngest) Henry, (Erin), Reuben, James, Joel and Frances.